Reawakening to the Glory of Christ, 2 January 2022

Reawakening to the Glory of Christ
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Matthew 19:27-30; Exodus 20:3; Habakkuk 3:2

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

Big Idea: The bottom line of our mission is God’s glory, not ours.

What’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, the most majestic, beautiful, splendid thing? Maybe it was a vibrant sunset, the birth of a child, the Grand Canyon, or a starry night away from the city. There are things so beautiful, so honorable, so incredible words can’t begin to describe them. You might say they are glorious.

Happy New Year!

We’re beginning 2022 on our knees…literally. Today we begin a series along with Christian & Missionary Alliance churches across the country. For the next forty days, we’re going to pray like never before. One of the Alliance Core Values says “Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.” For the next 40 Days we’re going to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future. We often say around here it’s all about Jesus…not religion or rules or being perfect, but Jesus.

I’m frequently heartbroken when I hear the tragic stories of people walking away from the faith because of an abusive priest, a corrupt pastor, or other sins committed by so-called Christians. If that’s you, I’m deeply sorry. But no matter what has been done to you or those you love, I can assure you Jesus has never harmed you. In fact, he was harmed
for you! We don’t worship tradition or even the Bible, but Jesus Christ who lived, died, and rose from the dead…for you and me. That’s amazing! That’s marvelous! That’s glorious!

Much of what I plan to say today I’ve said before, but it bears repeating…especially as we begin a new year. Much of what I plan to say is incredibly challenging…especially for me! So let’s begin with prayer!

The key word during these 40 Days is
reawakening. It means to emerge or cause to emerge again; awaken again. I think that’s obvious looking at the word. It implies sleep or slumber followed by a renewal of an interest or feeling.

The late Keith Green penned these prophetic lyrics in his song
Asleep in the Light:

Do you see, do you see all the people sinking down? Don't you care, don't you care are you gonna let them drown? How can you be so numb not to care if they come? You close your eyes and pretend the job's done Open up, open up and give yourself away You see the need, you hear the cries so how can you delay? God's calling and you're the one but like Jonah you run He's told you to speak but you keep holding it in Can't you see it's such a sin? The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can't fight 'Cause it's asleep in the light How can you be so dead, when you've been so well fed Jesus rose from the grave and you, you can't even get out of bed
I believe the problem in our world today is not the world, but the Church. We can complain about the evil and darkness “out there,” but the world is simply acting like the world. The problem is the Church is, too! We’ve fallen for the idols of money, sex, pleasure, and power. We’ve become obsessed with our rights rather than loving others well. By many measures, the Church in the United States is dead…just like the world…filled with individualistic, narcissistic, consumeristic people who will do anything possible to be happy. If we’re not dead, we’re at least asleep, apathetic…maybe even pathetic!

We need an awakening! We need to wake up from our comfortable, selfish ways of living. [I’m sorry, hopefully I’m just preaching to myself!]

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Great Awakenings in our nation’s history. God used people like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield to wake up the lukewarm Christians, convict the godless, and stir the first of two major revivals in the US and England. The stories are remarkable. notes,

The Great Awakening in America in the 1730s and 1740s had tremendous results. The number of people in the church multiplied, and the lives of the converted manifested true Christian piety. Denominational barriers broke down as Christians of all persuasions worked together in the cause of the gospel. There was a renewed concern with missions, and work among the Indians increased. As more young men prepared for service as Christian ministers, a concern for higher education grew. Princeton, Rutgers, Brown, and Dartmouth universities were all established as a direct result of the Great Awakening. Some have even seen a connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution --Christians enjoying spiritual liberty in Christ would come to crave political liberty. The Great Awakening not only revived the American church but reinvigorated American society as well.

If I have one prayer for 2022, it’s that we would experience a spiritual awakening. By “we,” I mean First Alliance Church. I mean the Church of Toledo. I mean the USA. I mean our world. I’ve been praying for spiritual awakening for years, but I was especially hopeful when the pandemic began nearly two years ago. I thought the fear, sickness, death, uncertainty, and chaos of COVID-19 would be the perfect opportunity for the light of Jesus to shine through His Church, for His people to come together and unite to bless the unchurched, to offer faith, hope, and love to a desperate world.

Instead, …well, you know what happened. Tragically, the world sees the Church as part of the problem rather than part of the solution! I often go back to one fundamental question: do we look like Jesus? That’s what a Christian is! Does my life and yours look like Jesus? If not, we need to change our lives…or our label!

I don’t mean to beat up anyone—except perhaps myself—but I do want to acknowledge the state we’re in. It’s not good. I have four prayers I’ve been praying for years…direction, protection, unity, and passion. I want God to lead us. We need protection from the very real enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. He loves to bring division—and he’s doing a very good job these days—which is why I specifically pray for unity (which was also Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17). Finally, I pray for passion, a hunger for God, a thirst for righteousness and justice, a zeal for the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. I long to see us known as the most humble, kind, generous, loving people on the planet!

I believe praying for awakening is the first step, but we can’t stop there. Prayer is not simply asking a genie for wishes. It’s so much more than talking to God. It’s even more than talking with God.
Prayer is doing life with God. It’s relational, not religious. It’s about knowing and obeying God, trusting that He has a better vision for our lives than we could ever imagine. When it comes to spiritual awakening, I can pray, but I also need to take action.

There’s an old story about a man who prayed, “God, why don’t you feed the hungry people in the world?” to which God replied, “Sir, why don’t you feed the hungry people in the world?” We must pray for spiritual awakening, but we’ve also been invited to participate with God in His plan for the renewal of all things. In a famous interaction with Jesus,

Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27, NLT)

This is a classic, selfish, human response, isn’t it? What’s in it for me? What do I get out of the deal? Why should I follow you, Jesus? I want to do things my way!

Jesus said to them,
“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28, NIV)

I love that phrase “the renewal of all things” in the NIV translation. The original Greek word for renewal, paliggenesia, (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee-ah) is from two words:

paling, “again”
genesia, “beginning”

Jesus is speaking of the world made new, recreated. It’s not a picture of clouds in the sky, but all things being renewed, including our planet. Scripture refers to new heavens and a new earth (Is. 65:17, 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1).

Jesus is saying a day is coming when there will be no more sickness, pain, viruses, political stalemates, violence, tears, hatred, homelessness, injustice, or apathy. Jesus will sit on his glorious throne, and for all followers of Jesus, it will be glorious! He invited his followers—and continues to invite his followers today—to participate with him in the renewal of all things.

And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29, NLT)

Jesus is casting an eternal vision for them, saying if they truly surrender their lives to following Jesus, they will ultimately experience something truly remarkable…for eternity! It will be glorious! Then he utters these famous words:

But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. (Matthew 19:30, NLT)

We all like that verse…until we are the ones going last! We like the idea of loving our enemies…until we have one to love. We all believe in the value of forgiveness…until there’s someone to forgive. What Jesus is really saying—and what his overall message was—is summarized in one, simple, three-letter word. I believe this is the secret to true satisfaction. It’s the pathway to meaning and purpose. It’s the way to experience the abundant life Jesus spoke of, and the most important step in following him. It’s a very unpopular word, but if you can grasp it, you will be able to not only experience reawakening and renewal in your life, it will be contagious for the benefit of others, too. If we can take this one step, it will change everything for us in 2022…and beyond. Are you ready?


Happy New Year! I know death is the one thing most of us avoid at all costs—except for those struggling with suicidal ideation (please call 800.273.8255). Of course, I’m not speaking of physical death. That will eventually happen for all of us. I’m speaking of dying to yourself.

I haven’t heard much about it recently, but there have been some court cases over the Ten Commandments and their placement in certain public places. We don’t have time to explore God’s Top Ten today except to say I struggle with the first one…every day! No, it’s not “thou shall not murder.” You can relax, it’s not “thou shall not steal.” It’s actually the first one:

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

I want to be God. I want to be in control. I want it my way. I want to be happy at all times and do whatever possible to avoid suffering and pain. But despite my ability to fool myself, I’ve recognized I’m not god! Hopefully you’ve come to the same realization about yourself! No offense! Here’s the mantra of my boss and dear friend, Rev. Thomas George, our District Superintendent:

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

Most of you can probably accept that you were made by God. Even if you believe in certain types of evolution, every creation has a creator, and God the Artist created you in his image with dignity, value, and worth. For details, see Psalm 139.

You were made for God. That means you have a purpose, which is greater than your own desires. It’s not that God
doesn’t want you to be happy, but His higher priority is for you to be holy, to be set apart, to trust and obey, not because He’s a control freak, but because Daddy knows best. His will and plans for you are far greater than anything you could imagine.

There have been numerous movies about robots taking over the world, somehow gaining enough intelligence to overrule their programming to cause destruction rather than assistance. If you had the ability to design a robot, how frightening would it be if it turned against you and did whatever it desired?

God has created us. He has designed us. Yet we’re not robots. He has given us free will, the ability to make choices. Just like I can’t make you love me, so God can’t make us love Him, obey Him, follow Him…but that’s His desire for us. There’s nothing God wants more than your heart. In fact, every commandment, rule, and law in the Bible was summarized by Jesus.

He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

That’s my new year’s resolution! But I’ve learned it’s not about trying harder. I can’t achieve it on my own strength. Even though spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible study, and fasting are useful tools, the first step is to die.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

I have the hardest time with the word “daily” here! I wish I could say a magical prayer, get a Get Out of Hell Free Card, and be done with it, but that’s not what it mean to follow Jesus. It means every day we are to pick up our cross…die to ourselves, our rights, our will…and follow Jesus.

The good news—the great news—is that following Jesus is the pathway to true greatness, true purpose, true meaning, true life. He’s not out to get you, but rather died to prove his love for you. The message of Christmas is that God became one of us, lived on our planet, showed us what it means to be human, gave everything for us, and shows us the pathway to enlightenment, wisdom, peace, freedom, hope, and joy.
Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come to life.

I know of no greater picture of this than baptism. Some churches sprinkle, which is fine, I guess, but the ancient tradition involves dunking a person completely in what is symbolically a water grave. They die to their old self, their sinful nature, and then are resurrected with Jesus, new life in Christ, recreated, reawakened. In one sense, we need to die daily…and be renewed daily.

To borrow a phrase, we need to
let go and let God. Some of you have been trying so hard to be good, striving, and struggling. You can’t impress God. You can’t manipulate God. You certainly can’t compete with God. But you can love Him. You can let go and surrender. You can trust and obey. You can seek first His Kingdom rather than your pleasure.

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

As long as you pursue your own glory, you’ll be frustrated. Despite what all of the self-help gurus want you to believe, it’s not all about you. It’s all about God! We need to reawaken to the glory of Jesus, and what a glory it is!

In the Old Testament, the word for glory is hod. It means splendor, majesty, beauty, vigor, authority. The prophet Habakkuk wrote,

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2, NIV)

I can’t think of a more timely prayer…and that was written around the 7th century BC!

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

The bottom line of First Alliance Church’s mission statement is the glory of God.

As we begin this new year, I want to challenge you
to make God’s glory your highest priority. It goes against everything the media and social media want you to believe. It is counter-cultural. It is radical. It is the true alternative lifestyle!

Yet I believe if we reawaken to the glory of Jesus rather than our own glory, it will transform our lives, it will transform this church, it might transform our city, and it could even change the world. Jesus said,

…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, NIV)

You can seek your glory or God’s glory, but not both! What will you choose in 2022?

The Wonderful Cross (song)

O the wonderful cross bids me come and die and find that I may truly live 

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

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

The Rich Young Ruler, 21 February 2021

The Rich Young Ruler
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 10:17-31

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

Big Idea: Following Jesus involves total surrender, not just a one-time prayer.

Nearly four years ago we began a series called
Mark, the Real Jesus. We’ve been going verse-by-verse through the shortest of the gospels or “good news,” the four biographies of Jesus that include Matthew, Luke, and John. The purpose of the series is to know Jesus…not just know about him, but to know him, to have a relationship with him, to become like him by the power of the Holy Spirit we talked about last Sunday.

Before we look at today’s text in Mark chapter ten, we’re going to go back—way back—to the second book of the Bible. In Exodus chapter twenty, God delivers His Top Ten List, the Ten Commandments. How many of them can you name?

And God spoke all these words: (Exodus 20:1)   

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2)   

“You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)   

That’s the first one: no other gods. What is most important to you? Who is most important to you? What is the foundation of your life? What or who truly matters most?

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (Exodus 20:4)   

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (Exodus 20:5)   

but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:6)

The second one is no idols. We often think of idols as religious statues, but it’s anything we love and worship more than God. Notice God makes incredible promises concerning these commands. He gives us great freedom, but there are consequences to both obedience and disobedience.  

If you’re keeping score, the rest involve misusing the name of the LORD, sabbath, honoring one’s parents, and the “shall nots” of murder, adultery, stealing, false testimony, and coveting.

Today, though, our focus will be on the first two commandments as we look at the gospel of Mark.

Are you rich? Whether you feel like it or not, most of you are rich. Sure, we are all rich in God’s love, but I mean financially rich. You’ve heard of the one-percent, those wealthy Americans who are frequently demonized in the media (despite many create jobs and opportunities for others as business owners). To be in the top one percent in the USA, you need to earn about $500,000 a year. For the record, that is NOT me!!!

To be in the top one percent in the
world, you need to earn about $60,000 a year. If you earn $45,000, you are in the top two percent, and if you only earn $38,000, you are in the top three percent of the richest people in the world. If you earn only $19,000 a year, you’re in the top ten percent.

Most of us are rich compared to the rest of the world. With blessings comes responsibility…and temptation.

We’re in the tenth chapter of Mark, beginning at verse 17.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)

This guy sounds sincere. He runs to Jesus, falls on his knees, proclaims him to be a good teacher, and asks what it takes to inherit eternal life.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:18)

Maybe the man realized Jesus
was God!

Think for a moment about Jesus’ statement. If only God is good, we’re not. Sure, compared to some people we might be good, but we all sin. We are all deserving of eternal punishment for our wicked deeds. None of us is perfect, which is God’s standard for goodness, found only in Jesus, the sinless one.

You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:19)

These are commandments 6-9 if you’re keeping score, plus “don’t defraud,” and then 5. He skips 1-4 and 10…for now!  

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” (
Mark 10:20)

That’s a pretty bold statement, but the man didn’t list all ten. Like us, he was self-deceived. He overestimated his goodness after Jesus told him only God is good.

Jesus looked at him and loved him.
“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

I always missed the first sentence. Jesus loved him. Jesus loves sinners. It’s out of love that Jesus addresses the commandments related to God first. no idols, and covetousness or greed.

N.T. Wright notes,

When Jesus says ‘You will have treasure in heaven’, he doesn’t mean that the young man must go to heaven to get it; he means that God will keep it stored up for him until the time when, in the Age to Come, all is revealed. The reason you have money in the bank is not so that you can spend it in the bank but so that you can take it out and spend it somewhere else. The reason you have treasure in heaven, God’s storehouse, is so that you can enjoy it in the Age to Come when God brings heaven and earth together at last. And ‘eternal life’, as most translations put it, doesn’t mean ‘life in a timeless, otherworldly dimension’, but ‘the life of the Age to Come’ (the word ‘eternal’ translates a word which means ‘belonging to the Age’).

(Mark for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press)

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (
Mark 10:22)

The rich, young ruler had good feelings for God, but loved wealth more. It’s important to remember most of us have great wealth, too. The world says that’s good, but it can become an obstacle. Do you possess money or does your money possess you?   

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23)

I’ve seen a number of people lately writing about downsizing and eliminating clutter in our lives. The more we have, the more we must work to protect, insure, store, and steward. Some in our church family are homeless, which is not a popular or comfortable position to be in, but there are certainly benefits to its simplicity.

As I said, sometimes we demonize the rich, as if their success is somehow evil. Perhaps it’s actually envy that leads to such criticisms.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Proverbs 30. It reads,

8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8-9)

Do you recall someone teaching his friends to pray for daily bread? It’s in Jesus’ model we call the LORD’s Prayer (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3). It’s taken from these words by Agur son of Jakeh, a wise man indeed.

The rich are tempted to feel secure in their wealth and ignore God.
The poor are tempted to steal and dishonor God.

We are to pray for daily bread.

Back to Jesus,
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24-25)

That’s a sobering statement, especially for USAmericans. We often think of the kingdom of God as a disembodied heaven, but rather it’s here on earth where God rules. Jesus taught us to pray for his kingdom to come now, on earth as it is in heaven. We don’t walk on streets of gold, but the Age to Come is emerging here and now, like a baby chick with its beak sticking through the egg shell, as N.T. Wright says. We are in-between.

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” (
Mark 10:26)

Many in Jesus’ day thought wealth was a sign of God’s favor and blessing, and that a place in the Age to Come could be purchased somehow. If the rich can’t get in, who can?  

Jesus looked at them and said,
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Many of you have heard that expression, “All things are possible with God.” But look at the context. It’s about salvation. It’s about the rich entering the kingdom of God. We are saved by grace. It’s a gift. Praise God we have hope because of Jesus, his death, and resurrection!   

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” (
Mark 10:28)   

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)   

What a promise! This life—eighty years or so, on average—is so short compared to eternity. Why are we so attached to the cares of this world when it’s all so temporary? God’s kingdom is not of this world. It’s the upside-down kingdom. Jesus is saying anything we sacrifice for him will be worth it, both in the present age and in the age to come. He is inviting them—and us—to put away our idols and greed and follow him with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. There’s a price to pay for following Jesus, but it’s worth it.

So What?

Is money evil? No. Money is a tool used for centuries, a means of exchange. It can be used for good or bad.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

The love of money is dangerous. It is one of the most common idols in our culture. Most of us want more. In fact, one millionaire was asked how much money was enough and he replied, “Just a little bit more.” That’s because money will never truly satisfy, especially if your goal is to hoard it.

Contrast that with generosity. I remember hearing a wise man years ago say his goal was to make as much money as possible and keep as little as necessary for himself. He delighted in giving.

During my five years here at First Alliance I’ve seen many examples of radical generosity. God has blessed us with some wealthy members, and although I don’t see who gives what, I know our budget is met through men and women who are good stewards of their wealth, making eternal investments through their tithes—ten percent-and offerings week after week. But I’ve heard stories of anonymous homeless people giving generously, too. The best way to destroy the money monster—the greed machine, the idol of wealth—is generosity.
Giving is a gift. Paul instructed the church in Corinth,

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

Do you want to be loved by God? Give! This isn’t a fundraising pitch, but an encouragement to share your wealth, invest your money, be generous. To those of you with little financial wealth, give something! If ten percent seems too much, start with one percent. Columbus takes seven percent! The federal government takes even more! What if you took a faith-filled risk and sowed some seeds, upped your giving, made a wild investment in God’s work, or simply began the godly discipline of generosity? Remember,
everything we have belongs to God, not just ten percent.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

We can see from today’s text how money easily becomes an idol. It becomes more important than God. In fact, I believe the reason Christianity has been in decline in the western world for decades isn’t politics or technology or education, but simply wealth. We don’t need God. We have doctors when we’re sick, heaters when we’re cold (until we lose power!), iPhones when we’re lonely, and entertainment when we’re bored. Who needs God? Who has time for God?

It’s amazing how different things are in the developing world. When they are sick, they pray. For many, there is no plan B. For our brothers and sisters around the world without religious freedom, they have no power or rights, but they trust completely on God. Many of us are so comfortable that truly pursuing God seems like work or an obligation rather than a privilege to commune with the Creator of the universe!

Is God first in your life?
What idols are between you and God? It might be money, but it could be your career, family, hobbies, or even religion. Anything more important to you than God is a sinful idol. Period. Those are God’s words…Old and New Testament!

Consider these words from the book of Hebrews:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Think about that for a moment. If we have God, what more do we really need? True contentment can only be found in God in the first place.

Listen to Paul’s instructions to Timothy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2Timothy 3:1-5)

If this doesn’t sound like our country, I don’t know what does. But we’re called to be different! We’re called to follow Jesus, not the world. We’re called to live lives of contentment, peace, faith, hope, and love. We’re called to fully rely on God, not our 401k or bank account.


No other Gods. No idols. No covetousness or greed. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said the greatest commandment was:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

May it be said of each of us, “In God We Trust,” not the money upon which it is stated.

What is your foundation? What or who is your God. What is your first love?

We can build our lives on the stock market, but it can crash.
We can build our lives on a dream home, but a storm can destroy it.
We can build our lives on a career, but it can be lost in a pandemic.

“Build My Life”

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

Away in a Manger, 20 December 2020

Away in a Manger
Luke 2:16-20

Series Big Idea:
Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Baby Jesus in the manager is now LORD of lords, calling us to surrender.

Around 700 BC, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Our Advent candle this week is
peace (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. It’s a little ironic that we lit the peace candle between our two angel songs that terrified the shepherds in their fields!

The Messiah has many names. In that one verse, Isaiah mentions several. What is your favorite name for God? Our Advent series is called
Carols and our song of the day, Away in a Manger, features one of the most important yet often ignored word…LORD.

There are countless images that depict the birth of the Messiah. In addition to paintings, we have three-dimensional models we call…
nativity scenes or…creches.

For as long as I can remember, our home has always had a nativity scene. It’s tradition for us to set up Mary, Joseph, the animals…and hide baby Jesus until Christmas morning. It’s part of the Advent celebration, the waiting for the coming, the arrival.

We’ve noted before how
many nativity scenes are historically inaccurate. After all, the wise men or Magi from the east arrived later, perhaps two years later! Matthew chapter two records that event. If you have a creche at home, you might want to move the wise men…to your backyard!

Side note: there are many myths about the Christmas story that are completely unbiblical…but that’s probably for another time!

Two weeks ago looked at the beginning of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel account of the life of Jesus the Messiah and the shepherds’ encounter with the angels. Verse sixteen continues…

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:16)

Obviously the manger is featured in Away in a Manger.

Away in a manger no crib for a bed
The King of kings had no thousand-dollar stroller. He was not born in a hospital—modern or ancient. There was no mention of his birth in the Jerusalem Daily News. He was not placed in a $700 crib…but rather a manger…a food trough. How royal!

Nativity scenes often show the manger as a wooden vessel with straw, but first-century mangers may have looked like
this (cement). I took this picture in Israel. Would you put your baby—or grandbaby—in that? I suppose if you had no other choice, you would.
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head
Obviously Jesus was little…and apparently His head was sweet! How can you argue with that?
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay
That’s a beautiful image, isn’t it? Stars shining down upon a baby sleeping on a pile of hay.
Away in a Manger was published in the late nineteenth century. For years people thought it was the work of Martin Luther, it is now believed to be an American song with music written by William J. Kirkpatrick (1895) and James Ramsey Murray (1887).
In 1945, Richard Hill suggested Away in a Manger might have originated in "a little play for children to act or a story about Luther celebrating Christmas with his children," likely connected with the 400th anniversary of the reformer's birth in 1883. This might explain why it was called Luther’s Cradle Song.
The cattle are lowing the Baby awakes
Quick quiz: lowing means
  1. a. The position of the cattle’s head
  2. b. Another term for grazing
  3. c. A sound cattle make
The correct answer is C. But the Bible says nothing about cattle! I’m not sure it says anything about animals other than animals ate from mangers…and shepherds tended sheep. Maybe cows were present. Maybe not. According to the song, the cattle make a noise, wake up the baby…
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes
This is the line I question. It’s a quaint notion, but most babies cry when they are suddenly woken. But I wasn’t there! If the point is Jesus never cried, it’s blatantly false. He was fully human and babies cry!
There is a heresy called Docetism which states Jesus was God but not human. I can’t explain it, but
Jesus is fully human and fully God. Last week we noted John 1:14…
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Jesus being human is vital for several reasons. First, his death and resurrection would certainly be questioned if he wasn’t human. Second, his perfect example of what it means to be human would be lost. Furthermore, his humanity allows him to understand what it’s like to be sick, tired, tempted, angry, and joyful.
Speaking of Jesus, the book of Hebrews declares,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
This is wonderful news. Not only is God with us, Emmanuel, but He understands all of the dynamics of life on earth. He’s been here! He’s faced all of the challenges we face.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
What a beautiful promise! We can have a relationship with God. We can pour out our hearts in prayer. We can be real with God.
We are to respect God, but we don’t need to be overly formal. Religion often keeps God at a distance, requiring special places, words, or rituals in order to get His attention.
He’s right here. He’s with us. He’s not out to get you. He’s not sleeping. He knows life is hard. He grieves when we grieve. He shares our joys and sorrows. He loves you. He proved it by dying for you! How are we to respond?

I love Thee Lord Jesus look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle 'til morning is nigh

We love Him because He first loved us.

It didn’t take the shepherds long to love Jesus. They were the first evangelists, proclaimers of good news.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:17-18)

There are so many dimensions to the Christmas story. We’ve mentioned the manger. There was Joseph. Jesus. The angels. The shepherds. Those who heard about the birth from the shepherds. And, of course, Jesus’ mother.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

We looked at Mary’s tragic and triumphant life two years ago during Advent. She experienced the joy of bringing the Messiah into the world, but she endured shame as an unwed mom, gave birth in an inadequate place, would watch the horror of her son’s death, and after he rose from the dead, departing earth weeks later. This was a moment she would treasure, though, as she held God with skin on in her arms.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)

We have followed this pattern ever since. We gather to glorify and praise God. We worship with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He deserves it. He is worthy!
Be near me Lord Jesus I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me I pray Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there
Jesus is called “lord” more than 700 times in the New Testament (though I didn’t actually count!)! The Greek word for Lord is kurios, meaning supreme in authority, controller, Master, God. It is not a casual or passive term, but one demanding devotion.

Jesus is not only Savior, but also Lord.

We have a problem with Lord. As I’ve often said, there are vampire Christians who only want Jesus for his blood. They want to use Jesus as Savior, grateful for the cross and the get-out-of-hell-free card they imagine obtaining, but they aren’t followers of Jesus. They may give him an hour on Sunday, but the rest of the week is theirs to live however they feel…whatever makes them happy. After all, we’re Americans and we have the right to do whatever we want so long as we don’t hurt anyone, right?

Not if you have Lord.

You follow a Lord.
You obey a Lord.
You submit to a Lord.

If every Christian truly made Jesus Lord, the Church would look so different. The world would look so different!

You may recall the angel declared Jesus is Lord to the shepherds.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

It’s not enough to call Jesus your Lord. Jesus said,

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

My favorite scripture in the Bible says,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

All your heart. All your ways. Do you trust the LORD? Can you prove it? God can be trusted. He’s not a control freak demanding your obedience, but a loving Father who knows what’s best for us, even when we sometimes don’t understand at the moment what He’s doing. Most of us trust God in some areas. He is lord in certain “rooms” of our house, so to speak. But usually we don’t trust God in the areas in which we do not know Him, the rooms in which we’ve never let Him in. We think we’ll trust God after He proves to be trustworthy, but we really need to reverse it. He is trustworthy. He does know best. He is at work in the universe and He wants a relationship with you. But first you must let go. You must surrender. That can be scary, especially for those of you who have had trauma and trust issues with humans. But I promise you, Jesus can be trusted. The consequences of making Jesus Lord are not only immediate, but also eternal.

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

Those are sobering words, and they were spoken by Lord Jesus. Calling Jesus Lord does not make Jesus Lord.

So What?

Jesus may be your friend.
Jesus may be your Savior.
Is Jesus your Lord?

We don’t make Jesus Lord. He is. We choose to surrender to His control…or not.

Where have you not fully surrendered to the Lord Jesus?
What’s holding you back?
What next steps do you need to take to more fully surrender to Christ?

When you surrender your life, you discover your life (Matthew 10:39).


Away in a Manger is a classic Christmas carol. It draws our attention to a little baby asleep on the hay, but that baby didn’t stay in the manger. He grew, taught, healed, modeled for us what it means to be human, forgave sins, died a brutal death, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and he’s coming back. Advent is about celebrating his first visit to our planet…and awaiting his second coming soon. He will rule and reign forever and ever. He is the King of kings. He is the LORD of lords.

As we sing this song today—and as you hear it throughout the season—I encourage you to focus on Lord Jesus…and make him your Lord.

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

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

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.

Dead Man's Journey, 3 May 2020

Dead Man’s Journey
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 8:31-9:1

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

Big Idea: Following this King is a death sentence…which leads to abundant life.

Unlike you, my dad has not been affected by coronavirus. He’s not been worried about losing his job. Not once has toilet paper been a concern. There’s no fear of catching or spreading the virus. He hasn’t even given a thought to death. Why?

He died six years ago this week!

I miss my dad terribly. He was the greatest man I ever knew. The best thing about my dad was his love for God and the way he followed Jesus. He loved the LORD. He worshipped with his time, talents, and treasures. He surrendered most everything to God, living not for himself, but for Jesus. You might say he died long before his death…and we should, too.

Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. His investment in a small group of people forever changed the world. His words are quoted every day by people from most every nation, tribe, and tongue. The wisdom he delivered is revered, even by those of other religions.

As I’ve studied Jesus’ teachings, I’ve come to the conclusion that many are difficult, if not impossible. Love your neighbor as yourself is daunting, even if you have a good neighbor! The first shall be last is curious, to be sure. But our scripture today includes what may be the most radical and controversial of all of his statements: die…in order to live.

In the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel—good news—Jesus has just healed a blind man and listened to Peter’s declaration of faith, that Jesus is the Messiah, the King. Verse thirty stated,

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:30)

It wasn’t time for his true identity to be revealed to the world. He already had people trying to kill him. There were things he needed to tell his friends.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Jesus predicted his own death…and resurrection! He told the disciples exactly what would happen, and how. They got the message about suffering, but they all seemed to forget the resurrection prediction, but that’s for another sermon!

They were clearly confused. Why would the Messiah suffer? He’s supposed to reign. Some rabbis even thought there would be two Messiahs, one who would suffer and one who would reign. We now understand the fascinating relationship between the cross and the crown. God transformed suffering into glory while satan tempted Jesus to experience glory without suffering.

Not only did Jesus tell them what would happen in the near future,…

He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:32)

Say what you want about Peter, he’s not afraid to speak him mind! He rebukes Jesus!

He has just proclaimed Jesus is the Messiah and he can’t believe the King of the Jews is going to suffer. Kings don’t give themselves up to be killed. And dead people certainly don’t come back three days later!

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)

Do you think Peter meant well? He was seeing with physical eyes rather than seeking spiritual vision. God had a plan, albeit unexpected.

Sometimes I take matters into my own hands instead seeking first His kingdom. Proverbs tells us to seek wise counsel, but sometimes God leads us to do things that violate conventional wisdom. Following Jesus might mean learning a new language and moving to the others side of the world. It could involve radical generosity.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Mic drop!

Jesus, I thought you died so I could go to heaven when I die and all I need to do is pray a prayer!

Family, a Christian is not someone who simply prays a prayer. A Christian is not another word for American, though much of the world tragically thinks they’re synonymous. A Christian is not someone that goes to church—or engages online! A Christian is not someone with Bible knowledge, mental belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, or even someone who gives money to a local church.

A Christian is someone who follows Jesus. The word literally means “little Christ.” It’s a disciple, a student, a protégé, an apprentice, an imitator of Jesus. Jesus is defining what it means to follow him:

- deny themselves; surrender to our will and determine to obey his
- take up their cross (as in suffering and death!)
- follow Jesus obediently, wherever he leads

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Jesus, you can’t be serious. You want me to die?

God wants us to die…to ourselves. He wants us to let go of our ego, our agenda, and even the illusion we have of control.

Just to clarify, Jesus continued,…

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35)

It’s been said that you only live once, but I disagree. In this life, sixty, eighty, or even a hundred years seem like forever, but it’s not.

Think about the pandemic. It hasn’t even been two months, yet for some of us it feels like two years!

This life is short. Compared to eternity, you couldn’t even see it on a timeline. How we live this life will impact the life to come.

This verse is one of the hardest statements in the entire Bible. It’s one of the most challenging verses ever written, and yet it’s not only true, it’s liberating.

If we die for Jesus—figuratively or even literally as millions of martyrs have done—we don’t have to worry about this life. We can let go and let God. What’s the worst thing that can happen to you? What’s the worst thing that can happen during this pandemic?

If you live for yourself, you might lose your job, your money, your health, even your life.

If you live for Jesus, you recognize everything in life is a gift, on loan from God. You don’t deserve your job, even if you worked hard to acquire it. The same goes for your money, but how quickly can your 401k become a 201k? Every good and perfect gift is from above, from God (James 1:17).

Jesus isn’t promoting suicide. He’s not saying you shouldn’t have fun, pleasure, hobbies, or recreation. He is saying…

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Mark 8:36-37)

The eternal matters. The next life is infinitely longer than this one! If your entire focus is on this life, this world, this body, it’s not going to matter in a hundred years. We have all come from dust and to dust we will return. That’s the message of Lent. Again, it can all be gone in a moment.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Yikes! That’s more than a little scary, isn’t it?

Jesus was speaking to a group of people, most of whom would become martyrs. They would die for their faith. We’ve enjoyed bountiful religious freedom in this country since its founding, but many of our brothers and sisters haven’t enjoyed such liberty.

Millions of men, women and children have been martyred—killed for their faith in Jesus, a faith that was proven by action and a willingness to die.

Jesus never asks us to do anything he doesn’t model for us.
He hung up for you and me. Can we stand up for him?

It’s easier when you have nothing to live for…except Jesus. Dead people don’t fear death.

Many years ago, the gold vehicle I was driving began to take on more of a rust color! To say it was falling apart would be about right. Every member of my family urged me to get rid of it (I’m not sure if it was because they were embarrassed by its looks or afraid it would break down in the middle of nowhere!).

I liked the vehicle. I’m not even ashamed to admit it was an old minivan. I liked the sleek design and didn’t even mind the gold color. It previously belonged to my grandfather, so it had a little sentimental value. The fact that it was paid for was certainly endearing. But maybe what I loved most about it was the fact that I wasn’t afraid of getting in an accident. If someone ran into me, I wouldn’t be out much! As long as it ran, I didn’t worry about it getting scratched or damaged or even stolen. It was nearly dead so there wasn’t much to lose.

Contrast that with minivan I rented on vacation a few years ago. After getting the keys and starting it up, I looked at the odometer and I think it read about 80 miles. This was a brand new car, worth ten times more than my bank account! I drove so carefully, aware that I could actually be a perfect driver and still return it totaled if someone else was careless.

If we have nothing to lose—if we’ve already died to ourselves—there’s no fear in loss, in death.

If we have everything to lose, we live in fear, anxiety, and scarcity.

In the final verse for today, Jesus said to them,…

And he said to them,
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)

Eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples saw the resurrected Christ. They got a sneak preview of what their future bodies will be like, and they saw satan and death defeated, hallelujah!

So What?

Our world is in turmoil. Fear abounds. Anxiety is running rampant. One report said half of the restaurants closed will never reopen. People have labored for years building businesses that are vanishing because of something that began on the other side of the world. Perhaps you’re among those who are at the end of your rope, at the bottom of the barrel, desperate. Maybe you’re engaging online right now because you don’t know where else to turn. I’ve got great news!

You can’t lose what’s not yours…and nothing is truly ours. It’s all a gift on loan from God. Our health. Our jobs. Our family. Our skills. Our talents. Our dreams.

If we truly let go and let God, we can let go of worry, fear, and anxiety. This doesn’t mean we sit around all day playing video games, but we can seek first God’s agenda, His plan, and watch Him do what only He can do.

Perhaps today is your day to let go and let God, to die to yourself and allow Jesus to give you a new life, a new heart, a new future, a new destiny. If you want to begin to follow Jesus today, you can “raise your hand” on the church online platform. If that’s you, please let us know your phone or e-mail so we can give us you some free resourced to help you get started with Jesus. Dying doesn’t sound like an attractive proposition, but it’s the only path to really living, letting Jesus “take the wheel” and be the leader of your life.


As I said, Jesus never asks us to do something he has not already modeled for us. He died…so we could live. He was the least-deserving person in history to die, much less be crucified, yet it was part of God’s plan to redeem us, to restore us, to reconcile us to Himself.

As we sing this next song together, The Wonderful Cross, if you’re a follower of Jesus, this is the time to eat the bread and drink the cup, reminders of Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed for you and me.

As we survey the wondrous cross, I want to call your attention to these lyrics:

Oh the wonderful cross
Oh the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live

This is an incredible paradox, yet it’s so true.

The Wonderful Cross

What does it mean for you to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus this week? It might mean a financial sacrifice, an extravagant gift, a kind note, or a generous act of service to someone in need. It might be putting others above yourself, wearing a mask when you don’t want to (they won’t make you safe but they might protect others). Denying yourself could involve listening when you want to speak, reading the Bible when you’d rather post on social media, or seeking forgiveness from someone you have wronged.

Someday, it might involve a greater sacrifice, a greater death to yourself. Maybe God will call you to relocate, change careers, or maybe—just maybe—die for your faith.

The dirty little secret about Christian martyrs is they really do go to a better place!

We can live for ourselves or we can live for Jesus. It’s a choice we make every day.

Family, I haven’t mastered this. It’s a daily struggle. I want to be in control. I want to be my own god. I want it my way. But when I stop, trust God, surrender, put things into His hands, and let go, there’s so much relief, satisfaction, peace, and joy.

This entire message can be described with two simple gestures. A closed fist represents our desire to hold on, to cling, to protect, to hoard. That’s what it’s like to do life in the flesh. An open hand releases everything, it signifies surrender, it’s scary because it allows everything we have to be taken away…yet it also creates space for God to bring new blessings into our lives.

Perhaps a more familiar image is water baptism,
which I hope we will be able to do soon. It’s a beautiful symbol of a person dying (in a water grave) of their old life, their sinful, selfish nature and then coming out of the water resurrected, a new life in Jesus, proclaiming in word and deed that Jesus is LORD.

I want to close with two scriptures. Jesus said,

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

Paul wrote,

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

Death is not the end. It’s only the beginning. What follows death for every follower of Jesus is live…abundant life…freedom…and ultimately resurrection.

Following Jesus is more than a prayer and a few adjustments in our ordinary lives. It’s a dangerous adventure filled with risk…and eternal rewards.

Jim Elliot—who was a Christian martyr—said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Someday this life, this body will end. Salvation through Jesus Christ is forever.

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

You can watch this online worship experience

Take Away, 12 January 2020

Take Away (start doing)
Series—A Fresh Start

Series Big Idea:
As we begin this new year/decade, it’s out with the old, in with the new.

Big Idea: There are many things we need to start doing in order to love God and others.

Several years ago I attended a conference. At the end, each person was given two Post-It Notes. We were instructed to use one to list one or two things that we wanted to leave behind. The other was used to list things we wanted to take away from the event.

Last Sunday we began a two-week series, A Fresh Start. We said that most of us have to-do lists, but few people take the time to create a stop-doing list. We need to leave behind some things from the past as we enter 2020. Maybe you want to leave behind those extra pounds you gained eating Christmas cookies! Perhaps you want to leave behind a bad habit such as biting your nails, smoking, or maxing out the credit card. In order to begin new habits or rhythms, we often have to let go of some things to make room in our lives for the things we want to start doing, which is our subject this morning.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Do you want it to matter?

I think deep inside of us, we all want to make a difference. We want our lives to count. We want something on our tombstone besides, “He lived and died.” How will you live your dash…that space between your birth and death?

It all begins today! Well, not exactly…but today can be a new beginning. As I took time to reflect upon 2019, I thought about what I want to be said at the end of this year. What will I do? Where will I go? Who will I meet? Most of all, who will I become…and worship.

One of our scriptures from last Sunday says,

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

We want to leave behind sin.
We want to leave behind all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice. Right?!

Paul continues,

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

We said last week it’s nearly impossible to just stop doing something cold turkey. You need to replace a behavior with a behavior. Paul’s saying stop treating others as enemies and then presents an alternative: be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. This sounds good, right? But how? The key is at the end of the verse. Do you see it? We can only be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to the extent that we have experienced the kindness, compassion, and forgiveness of Jesus.

You can’t share something you don’t possess. Have you experienced Jesus? Does your life reflect it?

We’re only twelve days into the new year. Now is a great time to start spiritual rhythms, to develop good habits (which often take 21 days), to cultivate our character. I want to offer a vision for what this might look like in your life. This may be familiar to many of you, but just imagine if you could look back at 2020 and say you have more of this:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We call that good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, the result of doing life with God. Galatians chapter 5 provides us with this portrait of a mature follower of Jesus.

How do we get more of this fruit? We must let go and let God. We must surrender. We must follow Jesus. We must obey Jesus’ command to

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

We all love the idea of love. We certainly love the idea of people loving us. I think most of us would say would want to love God. Hating God is a dangerous proposition, though indifference is also risky. The fact that you’re here today shows some desire on your part to know God, to love God. But what does Jesus mean when he says to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength? It means to love God with everything.

The reason most people make new year’s resolutions is because they want to improve themselves. They want to look better. They want to feel better. They want to have more money, more time, or improved health. Right?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to improve yourself, but it should never be the primary goal of life. In his book
SoulTalk, author Larry Crabb writes,

our first order of business is not to pursue satisfaction, but to identify what’s getting in the way of the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul.”

What is that? It's communion with God.

Too often we use God for our purposes. We give Him an hour on Sunday and otherwise ignore Him until we lose control. We seek His cooperation to improve our lives and a lifetime of blessings. If we do a few religious things, God owes us, right?

Anything that gets in the way of knowing, trusting, and following God is idolatry.

This includes church attendance, time with your family, serving those in need, giving money to charity, working on a degree, exercise, …anything!

To borrow Larry Crabb’s words, the world says, “I want to do something that will make my life better.” That’s good, but it’s secondary to the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul, which says, “I want to experience God through whatever means he provides and keep trusting him whether life gets better or not.”

Trust and obedience go hand in hand. I often say obedience is God’s love language. The number one command in the Bible is

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

If you can do this, I promise you it will be better than losing all of the weight, gaining all of the muscle, eliminating all of the debt, and whatever else you might resolve to do this year.

I want to suggest three practical ways to love God in 2020 and beyond. This is not about you and your pleasure, but you will be blessed. This might not produce the immediate results you might get from giving up sugar or working out an hour a day. But if you want to experience the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul, it begins with loving God with
all of you.

Love God with your time. I know, you’re so busy. We all get the same 24 hours each day. The average person spends 30 minutes in the bathroom. If we spent 8 hours working, 8 hours sleeping, and 90 minutes eating, that leaves six hours to…

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in
prayer? That’s less than ten minutes a day. Pour out your heart to God. You can journal your prayers. You can pray out loud in a car or closet. You can silently pray anywhere.

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in
God’s Word? Read it. Listen to it. Study it. Let it feed your soul.

What if you devoted two hours a week to attending the Alpha Course on Thursdays to really explore what it means to know and follow Jesus? If you’ve already been through Christianity 101, how about being a helper on the Alpha Course and helping others know and follow Jesus?

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in solitude, listening to God, being still, slowing down, resting, being fully present?

By the way, being here matters. Really. Many people are too busy to be here today. I chuckle when people talk as if another church is our competition. If they love Jesus, we’re on the same team! Our competition is the pillow, the golf course, the Internet, Netflix.

Love God with your time. Show me your calendar and I’ll show you what you
really love.

Love God with your talents. We all have gifts and abilities.

What would happen if you spent one hour a week
volunteering? You could serve in the nursery, prepare a meal for a family in need, listen to a shut-in tell their story, sing in the choir, or help at the Rosa Parks Teacher Pantry. One hour…out of 168. It would total 50 hours this year. Imagine how much impact 50 hours would have on the lives of others. It doesn’t have to be here on the campus of First Alliance Church, but we have so many ways for you to get connected, to bless others, …and nobody serves alone. One of the great things about joining a team at First Alliance is you get to serve alongside other people, making new friends. Each week the Connection Card is filled with opportunities ranging from ushering and greeting to leading a small group to serving on the kitchen committee to serving our students. We are always looking for artists, web designers, photographers, and digital storytellers. Our Trustees need help maintaining our beautiful campus buildings and grounds. What do you love to do? Do it for God! Love God with your talents.

Love God with your treasures.

This is where things really get interesting. Does your wallet or checkbook or online bank account reflect your love for God? Everything we have is a gift from God. Whether you have a penny to your name or a huge stock portfolio, all of our treasures are from God…on loan from God. He allows us to be stewards—overseers, managers—of stuff…money. The Bible never says we should give a certain dollar amount of money, but there is a concept in the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, known as the tithe. Tithe simply means ten percent. We have sales tax, which means 7.25 percent in Ohio.

Actually, the state sales tax is 5.75% but we pay 7.25% because of county and city taxes (Michigan’s sales tax rate is 6%).

Whether you’re at Dollar Tree or Macy’s, you have to pay taxes on most everything you buy. The tithe is not a tax. It’s not a max, either. It was something of a starting point for generosity before Jesus.

There’s a fascinating passage in the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, in which God makes some incredible statements to the people of Israel. He says,

You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. (Malachi 3:9)

It’s one thing to think you’ve been cursed, but it’s quite another to have God tell you you’re under a curse! Imagine God came to you and said you are robbing Him. Wow! In the previous verse, the people ask God, “How are we robbing You? What do you mean?” God continues,

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)

I think this is the only place in the Bible where God says, “Test Me.” The original Hebrew word, bahan, means “to test, try, probe, examine,” like seeing if a metal is pure.

Some tv preachers have manipulated this verse to say if you give them all of your money, God will make you rich. Actually, if you give them all of your money, you will make
them rich! But that’s not the point.

God is saying be generous. Invest in eternal things. Support your church.

This does not mean if you put twenty dollars in the offering plate today you’ll find a twenty in your pants pocket tomorrow (though you might!). It does mean that you will be blessed when you bless God, when you surrender to God, when you love God with your treasures. The text continues,

I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:11-12)

My parents taught me to tithe when I was a young boy. I have given at least ten percent of my income to God my entire life. I love to do it! Over the years, that’s added up to quite a bit of cash, but I don’t view it as money I’ve lost or spent. It’s money I’ve invested…in God’s Kingdom. He has blessed me with jobs, health, friends, and most of all Jesus. I could never begin to repay Him for His goodness and faithfulness to me. That doesn’t mean I’ve always been happy, healthy, and wealthy, but I have tested God in this area and He has never let me down.

I don’t have access to what people give around here, but I’ve been told many of you don’t give a dime. I feel bad for you. Really. Never mind what you give McDonald’s or Starbucks or Amazon or Kroger. You give to Columbus every day! A percentage of your money is given to our government, and I’m grateful for our government. But you’re missing out on the blessing of giving to God. He says, “Test Me!” Test Him!

If you don’t have much, you don’t have to give much. The tithe is a percentage thing. If you’ve got ten bucks, put one in the plate. If you’ve got a thousand, drop a Franklin! You can give online. You can text to give. You can do bill pay with your bank. We accept cash, checks, and even alpacas! On our website you can donate stocks and real estate and baseball cards and anything of value. This isn’t a fundraising pitch for First Alliance Church, but it is a challenge to test God, to invest in what He’s doing here in Toledo and around the world. There are a lot of great organizations out there, but First Alliance Church serves you AND others.

When you give here, you support Dinner Church, Sports & Arts Camp, and Elevate Student Ministry. Lives are being changed. People are being healed. Hope is being delivered. Masterpieces are being restored.

In this new year, I want to challenge you to love God with your treasures. If you give, great! What would it look like to test God and increase your giving? It seems like every time I increase my giving, I get an increase in my income somehow. It’s amazing! Again, I’m not making a promise that God will refund your money tomorrow if you give today, but the older I get, the more I believe
you can’t out-give God.

Giving is fun, too! Sometimes we’ll get extra money when Heather works extra hours or when we get a Christmas gift and I love giving extra money to God. It really is better to give than to receive, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, try it. Test God. Write a check. Give some cash. Invest in God’s work. I don’t know a better place to put your money.

I know some of you would love to give, but your finances are a wreck. We have a variety of resources to help you with finding a job, putting together a budget, and even saving money. You can call the office, send us an e-mail, or just write “Money Help” on your Connection Card.

Right Now Media has some great, free financial resources you can watch today on your phone, tablet, or tv. We can send you a free subscription if you request one on a Connection Card. Our sister church, Westgate Chapel, has invited us to their
Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course beginning this Wednesday. You can find details on our Facebook page.

You say you love God? Prove it! Loving God is more than just having positive thoughts in our mind. Love requires action. Show me your time, talents, and treasures and I’ll show you what you love. It might be your girlfriend, movies, pizza, work, football, or Jesus, but your calendar and checkbook will show what you really love.

My prayer for you—and me—in this new year is that we would go beyond good intentions and be intentional. We need to leave some things behind, stop doing them. We need to develop some new practices and start doing some healthy habits. Here are a few suggestions:

Generosity. Grace. Kindness. Exercise. Love. Healthy eating. Honesty. Forgiveness. Volunteering. Listening.

These don’t all directly show our love for God, but when we love others as we love ourselves, we declare our love for God. I want to close with one of the most important passages in the Bible, written by Jesus’ close friend John.

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

Do you know what this means, family? Treat one another the way you want to be treated. It’s not rocket science, but it requires thought, action, and effort. This next section seems a little extreme, to be honest. I hope this doesn’t apply to anyone in this room!

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:12-15)

Those are strong worlds. I know none of you would ever say, “I hate so-and-so,” right? But do we really love one another?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

Many people know John 3:16. This is 1 John 3:16. It sounds good, right? Love one another. But love is more than a feeling.

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

Here’s what I want you to take away today: love with actions. Love God with actions—your time, talents, and treasures. Love others with actions—your generosity, your kindness, your listening ear, your undivided attention.

What’s your next step? What’s one thing you can do this week—and each week this year—that will show your love for God and others?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Feeding: Loaves & Fish, 12 May 2019

    Feeding: Loaves & Fish
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:30-44

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

    Big Idea:
    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    Spoiler alert. There are few word couplets that seize our attention more than someone about to reveal the ending to a movie or a sporting match. Humans love suspense, and anyone destroying the surprise is likely to be criticized for doing so.

    Recently a youth pastor made headlines for spoiling the ending of
    Avengers: Endgame in front of his youth group. In a few short weeks, this film has become the number two movie of all-time as it approaches the reigning champion Avatar.

    Spoiler alert. If you are at all familiar with the Bible, your knowledge can be a deterrent to fully engaging with its stories. For example, the sorrow of our Good Friday remembrances is always tempered by our understanding of the resurrection. We know what happens next. This is true of most any biblical account.

    So today I want you to forget what you know about today’s text, assuming you know anything at all. Pretend you are a follower of Jesus and you have no clue about the following events which are recorded in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. To set the scene, earlier in Mark chapter six, we’re told of Jesus,

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

    He sent them on a mission trip!

    These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:8-11)

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

    As we continue our series Mark: The Real Jesus, we’re seeking to know about and ultimately know King Jesus, the Messiah. Last week we saw Herod’s confusion about his identity as people thought perhaps Jesus was a resurrected Elijah or John the Baptist. Who is Jesus?

    Jesus sent out his dozen followers two by two, gave them supernatural authority, told them to trust God for their provisions (take only a staff), and God did amazing things in and through their lives, including exorcising demons and healing the sick as they preached repentance.

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

    I wish this on YouTube! Can you imagine their excitement?

    “Jesus, you’ll never believe what happened!”

    Jesus: “Try me!”

    We begin every staff and elders meeting at First Alliance with “wins,” sharing stories of what God has done in and through us.

    We need to celebrate God’s goodness.

    I’m not very good at celebrating. I find it easy to start my prayers with wants and needs rather than praise and thanksgiving.

    My mind is usually on the next thing to accomplish instead of pausing to celebrate the goodness of the past.

    Earlier you heard about the upcoming events and opportunities on the church calendar, but what about last week?

    Many years ago I was reading John Ortberg’s book
    The Life You’ve Always Wanted. It’s about spiritual disciples, also known as spiritual habits or practices. I knew the importance of prayer and Bible study. I was a little uneasy about the thought of fasting or silence or solitude, thinking they were like eating your veggies—good for you but unpleasant (I hope to do a series on these practices sometime soon; they are truly wonderful pathways to God). I was really surprised when early in the book Ortberg talked about The Practice of Celebration.

    (Some of us could use a bit more celebration!)

    (The book is excellent, by the way, and I recommend it.)

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

    I’m sure there was some celebration in their midst.

    I want to pause and celebrate God’s goodness at the sneak preview of
    Dinner Church last Sunday. Many of you served in beautiful ways—inviting, prayer, food prep, greeting—and God used our efforts to do amazing things. We had people from several continents exposed to the gospel, kids riveted to the message, adults engaging in unique ways, friendships forming, and an energy which could only be the Holy Spirit. I believe…

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    Thank you, family, for surrendering your time, talents, treasures, and energy last week. We’ll do it again on the last Sunday of each month, beginning May 26, and I can only imagine what God will do.

    Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)

    Vance Havner said, “If you don’t come apart and rest, you will come apart.”

    Because God is at work, we can—and must—rest.

    Are you rested this morning? Our culture can drive us insane—literally—with its non-stop, 24/7, on-demand, bigger is better, climb the ladder of success mentality. We were not created to work seven days a week. We do not have the capability of doing great work 12 or 15 hours a day. Science has proven this repeatedly. We need rest.

    If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, you must rest. You must be with Jesus in a quiet place. You must be still and know that He is God.

    I’m preaching to myself here, family. I don’t do this well, but I think I’m making some progress.

    We need to rest daily…time with God.
    We need to rest weekly…a Sabbath.
    We need to rest annually…vacations and staycations.

    We are human beings, not human doings.

    Pastors are one of the greatest culprits of workaholism. Many of us have this strange notion that if we’re not taking care of every need of every person in the local church, the world is going to end. I’ve seen insecure, co-dependent pastors run themselves ragged and, sometimes, destroying themselves and/or their families in the process. I know God doesn’t need me to accomplish His plans. I feel very privileged to have been invited to serve in His Kingdom—as all of you have been—but He doesn’t need me.

    Today’s text has echoes of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd. It begins,

    The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalms 23:1-3)

    There’s nothing there about busyness, demands, schedules, or achievement. Ultimately, we were created for relationships—with God and others. I’m afraid many cultures understand this better than USAmericans.

    We need rest. Life is a marathon, friends, not a sprint. You can only make it to the finish line with rest. When is the last time you were led by the Good Shepherd to quiet waters and refreshing rest?

    So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:32)

    This is a beautiful, tranquil lake in Israel, known today as the Sea of Galilee. I’ve been there in a boat and I’m sure the twelve were looking forward to some quality time with Jesus.

    But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:33-34)

    Jesus—the Good Shepherd—can’t avoid the paparazzi! The problem with being in a boat on a lake is people on the shore can see you…and where you’re headed! Jesus invites his disciples to get rest and then turns around and starts teaching the crowds. I’m sure the twelve were upset. After all, they had all of these great stories to tell! If only Jesus wasn’t so compassionate! Remember, the Good Shepherd is willing to leave the 99 to look for the one lost sheep, or in this case disrupt the solitude of the dozen for the thousands of lost people in the crowd.

    Do you see people as greedy or needy? Are people an interruption to your day or the purpose of our mission? Are you compassionate…or just comfortable?

    By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)

    I’m sure the disciples were hungry, too, but remember they wanted that quiet time with Jesus. Send the people away, Jesus!

    But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37a)

    What? Jesus, we’re hungry, too! This isn’t our problem. Let’s send them away, get back in the boat, catch some fish, and have a nice, quiet dinner together. We’re getting hangry, here!

    They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37b)

    I know that would be my answer! I can call Domino’s or Grub Hub, but I don’t know if my credit card limit will cover it!

    It’s easy to fault the lack of faith of the disciples, but again, they didn’t know what followed. If we were at the Mud Hens game, they ran out of food, and I told you to feed the crowd, what would you say?

    The disciples saw the problem but not the potential.

    “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

    When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” (Mark 6:38)

    [I have some fish. Are there any moms who would like some fish?]

    We know from another account of this story (John 6:9) the twelve disciples apparently had no food at all and, therefore, they searched the crowd and found a boy with a small lunch. Imagine being the only person in a crowd with food and someone asks you for it. Would you surrender it or keep it?

    What do you have to offer God?

    It might be your lunch. Literally. Would you give it to Jesus? He said essentially,

    “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

    When we show kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re showing kindness to Jesus. Giving to the benevolence fund is an excellent way to offer your lunch—or your wealth—to Jesus.

    What do you have to offer God?

    Remember, the boy had no idea what would happen to his lunch, but he surrendered it.

    If you knew by putting $100 in the offering today, you’d get an unexpected refund in the mail this week for $500, of course you’d do it. But faith is expressed through obedience without knowing the outcome. I’m not promising you $500, but can you outgive God?

    If you knew volunteering your time and talents to help on church work day would result in getting an extra week’s vacation at work the next week, you’d be foolish not to invest those hours.

    We don’t know how God will use our offering, but I can almost guarantee there will be no regrets.

    Think of it this way: is it generally wiser to invest retirement funds yourself or have someone with thirty years of successful experience do it?

    Do you trust God to do more with your time, talent, and treasures than you could ever do on your own?

    The exciting things is you might not have much to offer, in the eyes of the world. Some of us are not wealthy. Some of us are not healthy. Some of us aren’t especially attractive or talented or educated, but God can use anything and anyone He chooses to accomplish His will and plans…if we’re available.

    What could Jesus possibly do with a little bread and fish? Shhh. No spoilers, please!

    Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. (Mark 6:39-41)

    There are so many layers of symbolism in these verses.

    - Moses wasn’t sure how to feed all of the people in the wilderness
    - Green grass: the Good Shepherd (green pastures; it is springtime in Galilee)
    - Groups of hundreds and fifties: Jethro telling Moses how to delegate (Ex. 18)
    - Looking up to heaven, giving thanks, breaking bread: Passover

    Jesus was demonstrating signs the new creation, the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God. Here we see God’s love and power blended together.

    They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6:42-44)

    We have no idea how many women and children were fed, too, but Michael Card makes an interesting observation, saying, “In every account of the feeding of the five thousand, the word used is kofinos. It indicates a small lunch-pail-sized basket.” It’s likely the crowd didn’t even realize the miracle that occurred right before their very eyes, a miracle more of perfect provision than overflowing abundance. They had enough…their daily bread (and a little midnight snack for each of the twelve disciples).

    God is able to provide for our daily bread as we seek Him and surrender what we’ve been given to Him.

    Sure, Jesus could’ve had manna and quail fall from the sky to feed the crowd. God did this to the people of Israel in the wilderness, feeding them for forty years!
    Jesus could’ve taken stones and turned them into bread as satan had tempted him to do in the wilderness when Jesus was fasting for forty days.

    Jesus could’ve prayed a hunger prayer which instantly removed hunger from the crowd.

    Instead, Jesus wanted participation. He allowed a boy to be involved. He engaged his disciples. Instead of creating something from nothing—as he has done many times before—he chose to work in and through others. I love that!

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    How do you think that boy felt at the end of the day? Can you imagine the story he told his mom when he got home? What about what he said to his dad he arrived home from work?

    It is a thrill to be used by God. But first, we must surrender. God can bless and multiply whatever we give to Him. He used

    - an old man named Abraham to become a dad at 100 and father the Jewish nation
    - a stutterer named Moses to lead His people for decades in the wilderness
    - a prostitute named Rahab was so important she is in Jesus’ genealogy

    God often asks us to do the impossible…so He can receive the glory. Forgive without limit? Love our enemies? We are totally dependent upon Him…and that’s a great place to be.

    Sometimes we cry out to God and say, “Do something” and God replies, “You give them something to eat. What’s in your hand? I’ve placed you there in Toledo for such a time as this.”

    A man once asked God, “Why aren’t you feeding the hungry?”
    God replied, “Why aren’t you feeding the hungry?”

    I don’t know what God is calling you to surrender today, but I know it’s a thrill to be obedient, to be used by God to impact lives for eternity, to have a front-row seat to watch God at work. Some of you experienced this last Sunday at Dinner Church. Others were blessed by serving at the Rosa Parks Elementary Carnival. Still others were involved in Celebrate Recovery, bringing hope and healing to the hurting. I saw many of you at the TUI After School Klub banquet, celebrating another year of investment in our city’s kids. Next month you’re all invited to participate in Sports & Arts Camp, possibly our biggest event of the year.

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    What are you doing with your lunch? Hoarding it, or offering it to God?
    What are you doing with your wealth? Your time? Your talents? Your life?


    “God will you let us see people the way You see people, as masterpieces in need of love and restoration? Let us have compassion like You do. Will you take our time, talents, and treasures and multiply them for Your glory? I believe, LORD, but help me in my unbelief, that I may trust You completely with my heart, soul, mind, and strength. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”

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

    John: Arrested & Beheaded, 5 May 2019

    John: Arrested & Beheaded
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:14-29

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

    Big Idea:
    John sacrificed everything for Jesus…who sacrificed everything for John and us.

    “Oh how I love Jesus/oh how I love Jesus/oh how I love Jesus/because he first loved me”

    How much do you love Jesus?

    It’s hard to quantify love. It’s challenging for most people to even define “love.” But how important is Jesus to you…really?

    Today we are continuing our series Mark: The Real Jesus. I know, it’s been a while. September 3, 2017 was the last Sunday in this series! Sometimes you just need a break! We’ll have more breaks before we finish this, the shortest of the gospels or “good news,” biographies of Jesus. With the recent celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, we’re going back to look at his life, his ministry, the three years or so prior to Holy Week. And today’s text is about one of the most devoted followers of Jesus, John, who was arrested & beheaded.

    “To live outside of God’s will puts us in danger; to live in his will makes us dangerous.” – Erwin McManus

    Before we look at this dreadful event, I want to begin with some background information on John the Baptist.

    At the beginning of the book of Mark, we are introduced to John the Baptist.

    And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:4-5)

    John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)

    John’s father was a priest, usually a hereditary role which John chose not to accept, becoming a fiery preacher, paving the way for the Messiah.

    He’s immersing people in the Jordan River, a process called baptism which symbolizes a death and resurrection, washing away that which is old and become a new creation.

    We are planning a baptism on May 26. If you’ve never experienced baptism as a follower of Jesus—infant baptism is different—I’d love to invite you to be baptized, to publicly declare your faith, and to symbolically die in the water grave and come out as a forgiven, purified, resurrected follower of Jesus.

    But back to John. The Judeans, crushed by Roman rule and the high priests, found John refreshing. He was not afraid of seemingly anyone. Some thought he was the Messiah. He was a revolutionary who prepared the people for another Revolutionary.

    The following verses describe John the Baptist baptizing his cousin, Jesus. Why does Jesus need to be baptized? He is sinless and has no need of repentance, but perhaps it was a public way to begin his ministry.

    Later John leaves the wilderness and takes on the political leaders of his time. He starts in Tiberias, the place of sin, one of the cities in Galilee. It’s ruled by Herod Antipas, the second son of Herod the Great, the tyrant who tried to kill baby Jesus (Matthew 2:7-16). Herod Antipas wanted to be the king of Judea but, instead, became the tetrarch of Galilee.

    John decides to call Herod to repentance, a gutsy move. Can you imagine confronting a Roman ruler, calling them out over their sins. Keep in mind his sins were many. The Jews are struggling under the Roman Empire while Herod lives in luxury.

    Of all of Herod Antipas’ sins, one is most notable. While visiting his half-brother Philip in Rome, he fell in love with Herodias, Philip’s wife. He married her after divorcing his first wife. To make things even more complicated, Herodias was the daughter of another half-brother, so Antipas marries the woman who is both his sister-in-law and niece! You thought your family tree was messed up!

    In the politics of the day, Herod’s job is primary to keep peace in Galilee. If a rebellion breaks out, Herod loses his power. John calls for repentance and may have appeared to have been gathering a rebellion, so Herod has John imprisoned in the Fortress of Machaerus, 100 miles from Tiberias. It’s an awful place, distant from John’s followers. In the day, prison was barbaric. There was no rehabilitation, only punishment and breaking.

    While John is in prison, Jesus’ ministry grows and it is his popularity and his followers are sent out to preach repentance, turning away from their sins and toward God. They are also driving out demons and healing the sick, which leads us to today’s text in Mark 6:14.

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

    Herod Antipas wanted to be called king, though he was technically only a tetrarch, ruling a fourth part of the nation.

    Others said, “He is Elijah.”

    And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” (Mark 6:15)

    Who is Jesus? How you answer this question is remarkably important.

    Jesus was obviously special. He was a dynamic leader, a marvelous teacher, and a miraculous healer. He was quickly becoming an incredibly popular person among the crowds. Even John is unsure of the true identity of his cousin, Jesus. You may recall Elijah never really died, but was taken directly to heaven, so his return was plausible.

    Herod gets into the discussion of Jesus’ identity, wondering if he wasn’t John raised from the dead.

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

    Now Mark provides us a flashback.

    For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:17-18)

    It’s hard to imagine the audacity of John calling out Herod. We don’t really know all of the context other than we know Herod liked to listen to John. Whatever the case, there was obviously tension between John, Herod, and Herodias.

    So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:19-20)

    Herod was interested in hearing John, though it may have been a political maneuver. Remember, Herod’s chief responsibility was to keep the peace.

    If you’ve been going through Mission 119 with us, you may recall recent Bible reading through several of the prophets. The role of prophet—proclaiming God’s truth, forthtelling—is no for the faint of heart. Sometimes God calls us to do difficult things, even confronting people in love over their sin. This is not judging or condemning, but rather pointing people to life, to truth.

    How do you react when you’re confronted about something? We all hate criticism by strangers or venomous attacks by insecure people trying to tear us down. But what about when a loved one throws out a “help me understand?” For many years, my first instinct toward any constructive feedback was defensiveness. As I get older, I’m trying to listen first and then respond with grace. I can’t say I’m good at it. My pride gets in the way.

    Some people can’t handle the truth. They want to follow their pleasures rather than God. They’ve been given the choice, that free will. Followers of Jesus, however, must be open to loving correction. But remember,

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

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

    The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” (Mark 6:21-23)

    This must’ve been some kind of dance…or Herod had been drinking some kind of booze…or both! Imagine offering up to half of your kingdom as thanks for a dance! And it’s Herod’s birthday! The only thing I can think of in the Bible as outrageous is Esau exchanging his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup…or Jesus offering us his very life on the cross!

    Salome, Herodias’ dancing daughter, is already a married woman and Antipas’ stepdaughter. Herod makes an incredible offer to Salome—to impress his guests—and the response is equally shocking.

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

    “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

    At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mark 6:24-25)

    There was no argument or delay. At once she hurried to request John’s head…on a platter! What detail! What audacity!

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

    What a way to go!

    How much do you love Jesus? John was obedient, even unto death. He sacrificed everything to remain obedient to the call on his life, speaking the truth in love.

    This story is hard to imagine—a man beheaded for obeying God—yet today in our modern, sophisticated world, many of our brothers and sisters face persecution every day. Two days ago, the BBC said, “Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels’” in parts of the world. One in three people suffer from religious persecution and Christians were the most persecuted religious group, according to a report ordered by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

    The world saw the reports of more than 250 killed on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, just the latest of attacks upon Christians which includes church crackdowns in China, torture in North Korea, Indian Christians arrested for sharing their testimony with a small group, …and that’s just scratching the surface. On average, 11 of our brothers and sisters are killed every day for their faith. That would wipe out our church in a month! For more, visit

    What would cause someone—John the Baptist or anyone—to allow themselves to die for their faith, to be persecuted for their beliefs, to be tortured for their obedience to God? Love.

    Here’s the thing:

    Jesus sacrificed everything for you, including his life.

    If you think it’s crazy for a human to die for God, how much more radical is it for God to die for a human? That’s what we remembered last month on Good Friday.

    Jesus did so much more than save your life. He offers to save your eternity, and he exchanged his life for yours on the cross. What more do you want Jesus to do to prove his love for you? No, he’s not a cosmic genie who is going to instantly give you everything you pray for, because he knows what’s best. Sometimes a miracle is best, but in this life as we experience suffering, it is not without purpose. God uses trials to strengthen our faith, help us identify with and help others, and give us a yearning for the next life. I’m not saying it’s always fun or easy, but neither was the cross. Today we remember the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus…not because we’re so great, but because our sin was so great…and his love is so great.

    Honestly, I’m almost embarrassed to talk about giving God a tithe—10% of your income. It’s silly to think one hour out of 168 each week is a sacrifice. I scoff at the notion spending a little time overseas is super spiritual or noble.

    Jesus died for us, family! That’s a really big deal! Who else has shown you that much love? Can we not reciprocate?

    Following Jesus requires a sacrifice, including your life—dead or alive.

    Jesus doesn’t want fans or part-time followers. He wants fully-devoted disciples, men and women and children who are willing to live and even die for the one who died for them. After describing God’s incredible love and sacrifice for us, the writer of Romans wrote:

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

    How much do you love Jesus? This is what it means to love and follow Jesus. Become a living sacrifice—and maybe a martyr. Give it all! Die to yourself and surrender to God. I’m not just talking to spiritual seekers here, I’m talking to all of us. How committed are we to God? Really? John the Baptist was all in…and so was Jesus.

    Persecution may come to Christians in this nation. We could use a wake-up call, actually, not that I want persecution, but the church in the west is nearly dead, friends. When we feel persecuted by someone saying, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” we’re living way too comfortably! I know there are threats to certain freedoms we have enjoyed, but we are still a very blessed people. And let’s not forget what Paul wrote:

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

    We need to remember our brothers and sisters in prayer. I know Sri Lanka and China and the Middle East seem so far away, but they are family. Finally,

    No sacrifice for Jesus will ever be too great…or regrettable.

    Jim Elliot, before he was martyred in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

    This life is so short. I know it seems like…a lifetime. But imagine a timeline of eternity. How much of that timeline would represent the century or so we’re on this planet? You couldn’t even see it! As one song says, “It will be worth it all/when we see Jesus.” In two chapters, Jesus says,

    For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:35-36)

    Jesus gave everything for us. God for humans. Can we not return the favor?

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

    Passion & Unity, 10 February 2019

    Passion and Unity
    Series—Back to Basics
    Romans 12:9-13; Malachi 3:10; Mark 12:30; Romans 15:1-7

    Big Idea: We are discussing two of my four prayers for FAC: passion and unity and the stewardship and praise which result from them.


    What do you love?
    Who do you love? Really!

    I know, it’s Sunday so God must be the answer, right? If you have a family, your spouse or kids or parents should probably be mentioned. But what do you really love?

    I know some of you are passionate about sports. You practice, play, and watch games. Others prefer the electronic variety and devote themselves to video games. Some of you are committed to cooking, your Facebook posts, caring for your pets, traveling, fashion, reading, Netflix, coffee, charity work, entertaining people in your home, going out to eat, cars, …

    To quote John Maxwell,

    What do you sing about?
    What do you cry about?

    These are things that we are passionate about today.

    What do you dream about?
    This speaks to what you hope will bring you fulfillment tomorrow.

    In the first part of my message today, we’re talking about passion. It has been described as fuel for the will. It motivates us. It drives us to do—or not do—things. What do you love? What’s your passion?

    In our February series, we’re going Back to Basics. Last week we talked about mission, why we exist as a church. Although it is just the beginning of the process of living out God’s mission, we unveiled a mission statement for First Alliance Church.

    We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

    You are a masterpiece, God’s masterpiece. Like everyone in our city and world, we’re broken by sin and in need of restoration. We are privileged to partner with God in our own transformation into the image of Jesus as well as helping others become like Jesus. It’s all about Jesus and God’s glory, not our own, though it’s a wonderful—albeit often painful process—to be restored, redeemed, reconciled, repaired.

    Last month we looked at the first eight verses of Romans chapter twelve. It continues,

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

    Did you catch that in the middle? Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the LORD. That’s passion!

    Family, one of my four prayers for First Alliance Church is passion…passion for God and the things that matter to God. In case you’re not sure what things those would be, let me draw your attention to one of our Alliance Core Values:

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

    This relates to our mission of restoring God’s masterpieces, loving our neighbors, caring for “the least of these,” extending hospitality to widows, strangers, and orphans.

    The reason I pray for passion is because I can’t give it to you. I can model passion, I can preach about it, I can try to motivate you and challenge you, but passion is something that you have or you don’t. Either you were excited about watching the Super Bowl or you fell asleep during the big game. Either you devote yourself to politics or music or prayer or your kids or parents or neighbors or you don’t.

    What’s your passion? Who’s your passion? Prove it!

    One of the ways we can prove our passion is with our money. This week is Valentine’s Day, a day in which consumers will spend around $20 billion on flowers, candy, dinner, and gifts. That’s a lot of love!

    If your passion is video games, you no doubt spend a lot of money—and time—on entertainment. If your passion is fitness, you probably have a gym membership in your budget and calendar. If you love shoes or pets or family, your Visa bill or bank account will reveal that passion.

    See, love is a verb. It requires action. It’s more than just a word or two on a chalky candy heart (which you can’t even buy this year because of a change in manufacturer; don’t worry, they’ll be back next year!). Love requires commitment, sacrifice, cost. Show me your calendar and checkbook and I’ll instantly see your passion. Your time, talents, and treasures reveal what we truly love…and worship.

    Where does God fit into your life? Most of you know Jesus stated the greatest command is to love God, but do you? Really?

    Author N.T. Wright said,

    “When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.” (Surprised by Hope)
    Remember, we were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

    I want to offer a simple, practical challenge to you regarding passion. It involves your treasures. Just to be clear, we ended 2018 in the black. This is not a backdoor, passive aggressive fundraising tactic. I simply want to ask, “Does your budget reflect your passion for God?”

    Some of you may be asking, “What’s a budget?” If so, I urge you to talk with me, Google search “budget,” watch some free Dave Ramsey videos on Right Now Media, or take a class on personal finances.

    Like any challenge, this question is more relevant to some of you than others. To all of you who are faithful in your generosity, I want to say thank you on behalf of God. Thank you for honoring God with your finances. Thank you for declaring your allegiance to Jesus every time you write a check, put cash in the offering plate, or give online. I can think of no greater investment than in God’s Kingdom…and our family’s budget reflects that.

    Everything We Have Belongs To God; We Are His Stewards (1 Chronicles 29:14)

    The word “tithe” means 10% and was established in the Old Testament as a starting point for generosity and stewardship. 100% of what we have is from God and belongs to God. As this Core Value of The Alliance states, we are His stewards.

    When you give with passion to your local church, three things happen:

    You honor God. You put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. The only time in the Bible I know of where God says, “Test me” is with our finances. In the book of Malachi, the people were instructed to give at least a tithe—ten percent—to God. They were stingy, giving God their scraps and leftovers. Unfortunately, many do this today. When the offering plate comes by, if there’s some spare change in the pocket or purse, they’ll drop it in. If not, nothing. It’s really their loss. God told the people,

    Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)

    There have been many days when Heather and I could not afford to give, but we did anyway in obedience to God…and every time God provided. If you think you can’t afford to give, I’m here to say you can’t afford to not give. The dollar amount is not as important as the percentage. The city and state take 7¼% of everything we buy. Washington takes even more. And some of us give God nothing?

    If ten percent—which I believe is God’s minimum—seems overwhelming, start with 5% or even 1%. If your boss came to you tomorrow and said you’d have to take a 10% pay cut, most of you would find a way to make that work. This isn’t a pay cut, though. It’s an investment in God’s Kingdom. Test Him! See how God honors your faith and obedience.

    To be clear, I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll get $100 in the mail tomorrow after you put $100 in the offering plate today. But God honors those who honor Him. Don’t miss out on God’s blessing.

    2. You bless our church, city, and world. God is at work in and through First Alliance Church. We are seeing broken marriages healed, the sick receiving care, the hungry fed, those in prison visited, children tutored, artists trained, youth challenged, meals delivered, and the homeless housed. Because of your generosity the gospel is proclaimed—both here and around the globe. God has used this church—His church—to send missionaries around the world, to plant churches, to launch ministries such as Cherry Street Mission and Proclaim FM, to bring hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, and peace to the troubled. We are a family on mission, God’s mission, and I can’t imagine a greater investment.

    Let’s face it, our world is messed up. It needs help, and our government, schools, and businesses are not the answer, though they do good work. There’s no force on our planet like the power of God moving in and through His people.

    3. Thirdly,
    you experience freedom. So many people live paycheck-to-paycheck with a scarcity mentality, hoarding and living in fear. When you give to God before you pay your bills, you put your faith in action, trust God, and can truly pray for your daily bread. Remember, God says to test him. He can be trusted. In nearly 29 years of marriage, He’s never failed us (and we’ve been through some massive financial storms!).

    As James K.A.Smith’s book title states,
    You are what you love.

    When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment, He replied,

    Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

    What’s missing? Nothing! He said if we are his friends, we’ll do what he commands (John 15:14). He wants us to love him with ALL our heart, ALL our soul, ALL our mind, ALL our strength. When you are passionate about something, you give it your time, your attention, and your money. The word “passion’ means several things, including “a powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, a strong or extravagant desire, or a strong love,” but another definition is “the sufferings of Christ on the cross.” Jesus suffered because he is passionate about you and me. His love is so great that he gave everything for us—even his own life. That’s passion! That’s commitment. That’s love.

    One of the primary ways we love God, one of the tools we have for surrendering to the Holy Spirit, one of the best expressions of trusting God, one of the most practical declarations of our faith is how we invest our money. I pray that your greatest passion in the world would be for God, and that your time, talents,
    and your treasures would truly reflect your worship and allegiance to Him.


    Before we enter a time of worship through music in this slightly unusual Sunday morning gathering, I want to talk about another prayer I pray for First Alliance Church in addition to passion. It’s unity.

    Two weeks ago we saw from Romans chapter 14 how judging and condemning others can threaten unity…and even cause people to leave our church family. After all, who wants to be with people who are critical, negative, and self-righteous? Tragically, I’ve learned of several people who no longer attend First Alliance Church because of judgmental attitudes and rejection. One Connection Card from two weeks ago said a young persons, “First Alliance peers no longer come because they say they are judged and spoke to as sinful ‘lost sheep’ when they visit so they go to different churches now, or not at all. So sad.”

    Family, I don’t want to “judge and condemn” you, but we’ve got work to do. Actually, the Holy Spirit has work to do…on our hearts. I want to return to the book of Romans, this time chapter 15. Some preachers have spent years going through this incredible book of the Bible. Two weeks ago, we were in chapter 14 and it continues…

    We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. (Romans 15:1-2)

    In chapter 14, Paul tells the church in Rome to avoid quarrelling over disputable matters (14:1). Furthermore, we must be sensitive to those whose faith is weak, not causing them to stumble. Love means looking out for the best interest of another person, and for me to truly love you, I must be willing to sacrifice my freedoms for your conscience. I used the example of a person choosing not to drink a glass of wine around their friend who is an alcoholic. We’re naturally selfish creatures, but love means thinking of others.

    This is radical! This is counter-cultural. This is the way of Jesus. He did not come to be served, but to serve. He did not come to save His life, but to offer it up for us. He set a perfect example for us to follow…an example that requires surrender to God, a filling of the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to die to our own selfish desires for the sake of loving God…and others.

    This Saturday I’m performing a wedding ceremony in Michigan and one thing I often say to couples is marriage is not 50/50. It’s 100/100. If your attitude is to go halfway, that might be fine in some situations, but there are times in life when the other person—a spouse, child, parent, friend—simply can’t go halfway themselves. Maybe they are sick or struggling in some area of life and they need you to go the extra mile, so to speak. Jesus went all the way with his love. It was unconditional. He didn’t say, “I love you if” or “I love you because,” but “I love you. Period.” As we remembered last Sunday, he gave everything for us, even his very life on the cross.

    For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
    For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Romans 15:3-4)

    I’m so glad Jesus did not live a selfish life. Aren’t you? Paul continues,

    May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

    You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. When we live for ourselves, any hope of unity is lost. When we humbly gather together at the foot of the cross, bowing in adoration of Almighty God, seeking to love God and one another, unity is certain.

    The ultimate purpose of unity is to glorify God, to worship and praise Him.

    Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7)

    This doesn’t mean to accept sin, but to accept sinners…that’s all of us. We’ve been accepted by Jesus, despite our brokenness. His love is amazing, and he commands us to love one another, to accept one another, and in doing so, we praise God, in word and deed.

    This is really hard. It’s easy to disagree with one another. It’s easy to gossip, slander, and judge. It feels quite natural to be critical, negative and be divisive…especially in our current culture. I’m sorry to say I’ve witnessed this repeatedly within our church family…and it must stop. Now. Our mission is not to about a donkey or an elephant. What brings us together is not having similar educational or economic backgrounds. Our purpose in gathering is not to “have our needs met” or to enjoy the music or feel good about the preaching (especially today, right?!). We are a Jesus-centered family and we exist for the glory of God. Period.

    Even if you were an only child, you know family can be difficult. You won’t always agree on what restaurant to visit on vacation, what color to paint the living room, or what to name the puppy. But God uses others to shape us, teach us, and transform us. Others help us to become patient, kind, generous, loving, and selfless…to become like Jesus.

    Today we’re going to close with not one song but several. We want to create space for your voice to join others. You can download sermons all day long. You can give money online. You can chat with friends on Facebook. One thing that is unique about our gatherings is corporate worship. You can sing in your car, but there’s something so beautiful about praising God together. This isn’t glee club or choir hour, but rather singing songs to God. He’s the audience. The people on stage are not the performers. We all are performers, together, for God. As a symbol of our unity, of loving God and one another, as a family, we praise God.

    Worship Music

    I pray for passion, expressed in our time, talents, and treasures.
    I pray for unity, expressed in our love for one another, encouragement, sensitivity to one another, and lack of condemnation.

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

    Living in the Spirit, 6 January 2019

    Living in the Spirit
    Series—Romans: Walking in the Spirit
    Romans 8

    Series Overview: The book of Romans guides us into a life of freedom as we follow Jesus by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Big Idea: We are free to live under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit as we become like Jesus.

    Happy New Year!

    We’re returning to the book of Romans, a favorite of so many in our church family. We could easily spend a year in this book, but instead we’re taking specific chapters, getting an overview of timeless truths from this important letter written to some of the first Christians in Rome.

    One common theme we will see is this idea of walking in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus.

    Perhaps you’ve made new year’s resolutions…or didn’t out of fear of failure. If we’re honest, we probably all have areas in our lives in which we want to see growth. Well, if it involves weight, perhaps growth is the last thing we want! But seriously, where would you like to be a year from now? I’ve done a lot of reflection upon 2018 and would not be satisfied if 365 days from now I was the same person.

    I want to grow! My ultimate goal is to become like Jesus. That’s what “Christian” means…little Christ. As I mentioned last Sunday, I will not become more like Jesus by trying harder. That’s a terrible myth. Instead, I need to surrender, confess my sins, and welcome the Holy Spirit into my life. The late Bill Bright used to talk about spiritually breathing—exhaling by confession and inhaling by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit is not a force. The Holy Spirit is not a ghost. The Holy Spirit is a Person, one Member of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit. One God in three Persons.

    We are all engaged in a real war between God and satan, good and evil. Make no mistake, the enemy is real. He wants to steal, kill, destroy, and lie, tempting you to make a mess of your life. On the other hand, our Heavenly Father has a much better vision for your life, one filled with love, peace, joy, and abundant life. Jesus is our example. The Holy Spirit provides the gifts, the fruit, the power to become like Jesus when we die—to our flesh, our sins, our pride—and let the Holy Spirit live in and through us.

    In the seventh chapter of Romans, Paul describes the battle so eloquently:

    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. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25a)

    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)

    The struggle is real. But there’s hope. There’s power. There’s freedom!

    After admitting the war between God’s law and the law of sin, Paul continues in Romans chapter eight, perhaps the most inspirational highlight of the book:

    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. For what the law was po
    werless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

    It is fitting that we are reading this on communion Sunday. Some churches remember the Eucharist or the LORD’s table each week, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But on the first Sunday of the month we are reminded of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, demonstrating his love for us, freeing us from the law of sin and death. His death brings us life…abundant life and eternal life. And there’s no condemnation! Only grace! Hallelujah! Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, repentant followers of Jesus who have turned from their sin and followed Jesus can experience forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, salvation, and joy! The law can’t claim you, condemn you, or control you because of Jesus. That’s wonderful! It’s amazing! That’s grace!

    You’ll quickly see a tension between what might be called positional and practical reality. Followers of Jesus are forgiven, but we still sin. We are free from the law of sin and death, but we are still tempted to sin…and often succumb to those temptations.

    We find ourselves, yet again, in the in-between. Even when we make progress in our spiritual journey, there remains a distance between our lives and the perfection of Jesus. Like a child whose muscles are developing and body is growing, we are not what we were, but not what we will become someday. Such is life!

    Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)

    Every sin begins in the mind. Every act of kindness begins in the mind. Where is your mind? What influences it? We are bombarded by fake news, violence, fear, perversion, profanity, and evil every day, whether it’s from a screen in our pockets or a giant billboard on the expressway, cable news or Netflix.

    At the risk of sounding old-school, we must get our minds on God. True believers read the Bible. They study it. They put it into practice. The Bible is our authority, our truth, yet so many of us don’t fill our minds with it. This isn’t a pastor thing, it’s a Christian thing.

    As we begin this new year, let me remind you of some great resources we have made available to you.

    Mission 119. This daily devotional offers a passage of scripture, a twelve-minute audio by Alliance pastor John Soper, and downloadable resources for further study. And it’s totally free! Year 2 began last week, but even if you’ve never accessed it, you can get started today. You can easily catch up on the five days you missed last week since it’s a Monday through Friday format. In three weekends, you’ll be right on track! I’ve been thrilled at the positive feedback on it. I usually read the passage of the day while I’m still in bed…and listen to the audio during my commute. If you struggle with reading, you can even listen to the scripture passage each day.

    Right Now Media. They sometimes call this Christian Netflix. It’s not a vast library of movies, but it is packed with Bible studies for individuals and groups, great content for children, leadership resources, …and it’s all available for free on most any screen in your pocket or home. If you’d like an invitation, note it on the Connection Card.

    D6. Parents, grandparents, and guardians, last year we began offering take-home resources and weekly e-mails to equip you to train the next generation in the ways of the LORD. Discipleship cannot adequately occur through one hour a week. I have never seen a tool like D6 to help you and your family know and follow God. Some sermons, small groups, and Sunday School classes are thematically synced, too, to help our entire church family grow together, regardless of age, focused on the same scriptures.

    4. Speaking of
    groups, we have a growing number of small groups, Bible studies, and Sunday School classes that meet on Sundays and throughout the week, here on our church campus and in homes and public spaces. A complete list can be found out our Information Center in the lobby as well as at the bottom of the weekly FAC Focus e-newsletter. If you don’t get that in your inbox each Wednesday, please fill out a Connection Card and you’ll receive it…spam-free!

    Home Missions partners are local ministries doing great work in and around Toledo. They are always accepting prayers, donations, and volunteers. Our next Home Missions Sunday is in two weeks, January 20. Following Jesus is so much more than just agreeing with a mission statement or having Bible knowledge. The true measure of our spiritual maturity is love…how well we love God and how well we love others, even our enemies. Serving through FAC and its home missions partners is a great way to put your faith into action.

    But it all begins with our minds. Will you live for yourself in 2019 or God and others?

    You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

    That’s a fantastic promise! Christ was raised from the dead and after we die, our bodies will be resurrected like his! In the meantime, the Spirit of God lives in us! That’s just incredible! This is what it means to be controlled by the Spirit. We die to our selfish desires and follow Jesus.

    If I have one desire for 2019, it’s that I would decrease and Jesus would increase. I pray that 52 weeks from now, you would see more Jesus and less Kirk. It will only happen if I
    live under the control of the Spirit.

    Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-13)

    This is an awkward in-between time. We’re citizens of heaven, yet we’re living in a sinful culture, influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here we’re told to put our flesh to death. This doesn’t mean the body is evil and must be destroyed, but rather it is prone to sin.

    I’m proud to be a USAmerican, but does my life look more like Jesus or my non-Christian neighbor? If I’m living according to the flesh, my culture and comfort will take precedence over Jesus’ call to surrender, sacrifice, give, love, forgive, and extend grace. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to help dead people experience life, but first we must die to our will, our desires, our agenda, our flesh.

    For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)

    We are to live as children of God. Are you a child of God? How do you know?

    Some of us have been told the lie that if you just pray a magic prayer, you’re done. You’re in. Any such prayer or “decision” is just the beginning. Children of God are led by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit. They are living in the Spirit. They are walking in the Spirit. They have the Holy Spirit…and the Spirit has them! That means we daily die to ourselves. Their body becomes the very temple of the Spirit. If you think that sounds uncomfortable, it surely is! Never are we promised endless rainbows and lollipops! Paul tells us we will share in the sufferings of Jesus. That’s the pathway to glory.

    The vast majority of us have never endured the sufferings of Jesus. If someone wished you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Mary Christmas,” that’s doesn’t count! Paul knew suffering, the early church knew suffering, and today millions of our brothers and sisters in other nations are experiencing torture, imprisonment, and martyrdom because they refuse to follow Jesus.

    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

    Do you see Paul’s perspective? He’s not in denial about his present circumstances, but he doesn’t whine and complain. He knows freedom is coming. Life is coming. Liberation is coming. Even creation knows it. Someday suffering and death and pain will cease.

    We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)

    I’m so impatient. I want things now. I want Jesus to return, satan to be defeated, and a new resurrection body! Regardless of your present circumstances, hope is real. God always keeps His promises. It will be worth the wait!

    In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

    I love this passage. Have you ever tried to pray and you didn’t know what to say? I’ve had that happen many times, and I usually pray, “Holy Spirit, groan on my behalf; intercede for me; may God’s will be done.”

    One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is tongues. There are two different types of tongues: known languages and heavenly language. Some Christians are given the supernatural ability to speak human languages they’ve never learned, usually for the purpose of evangelism. This occurred in Acts 2:6. The heavenly language tongue is a spiritual gift which requires someone with the spiritual gift of interpretation to understand, though some speak it privately without an interpreter.

    I have asked the Holy Spirit to give me the gift of tongues, but I have never received the gift. The Spirit has given me other gifts and I’m content with them since nobody has all of the spiritual gifts. I mention this controversial gift fully embraced by the Christian & Missionary Alliance because some people when they pray are unable to use known languages to express their heart to God, yet the find themselves speaking words they don’t understand. This might be similar to the groanings the Holy Spirit prays. Note it’s all in accordance with God’s will.

    We must live through God’s strength.

    Now we come to one of the most famous and misused verses in the Bible.

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

    Take some time and unpack those rich verses. Remember, this is in the context of suffering. Nothing surprises God…and the suffering of His children is never in vain. There’s a rich chunk of theology here, that those that walk in the Spirit are called, justified, and will someday be glorified. We will receive a reward for our devotion to God…eternity with Him.

    What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Romans 8:31-35)

    I’d love to preach an entire sermon on this paragraph! If God is for us, who can be against us? The Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Our High Priest, Jesus, is also interceding for us. Nothing can separate God’s children from the love of Christ. We can live confidently in God’s never-ending love. If God is for us, how can we worry? How can we be fille
    d with fear?

    As it is written:

    “For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36)

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

    If we walk in the Spirit, we can live victorious, free from sin, defeat, death, discouragement, condemnation, and fear. Nothing can separate God’s children from the love of God. Hallelujah! If God is for us, who can be against us,

    I want to you think about your relationship with God. Who’s the pilot? Are you frustrated from disappointment and failure, trying to be in control? Live under the control of the Holy Spirit. Do you feel distant from God or find yourself trying to fit in with the world? Live as a child of God. Are you weak and tired? Live through God’s strength? Are you insecure or feel unloved? Claim the promises of Romans 8 and know that you can
    live confidently in God’s never-ending love.

    That love was not just a mushy Hallmark card, but demonstrated with blood, sweat and tears. Jesus died to make everything in this chapter possible. He endured suffering knowing glory would follow, and the same is true for us. Your story’s not over. I want to encourage you in this new ye
    ar to press into Jesus, surrender control of your life to the Holy Spirit, and seek first the Kingdom of God.

    Credits: outline from D6.

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

    Motherhood: Woman of God, 30 December 2018

    Motherhood: Woman of God
    Series—Mary Christmas
    Luke 2:21-52

    Series Overview: Mary may be the most underrated, godly character in the Bible (at least for Protestants!).

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

    Welcome to in-between Sunday. You know, that awkward time between Christmas and New Year’s. You’re not sure if the decorations should be up or down. Is it ok to still listen to Christmas carols? Half of the world seems to be on vacation while the other half tries to work amidst the gnawing sense that gifts need to be returned and hopefully there’s some deals on leftover Christmas stuff. The space between.

    The same, of course, can be said about our place in history. Throughout Advent—the season of waiting and coming—we’ve noted how we look back at Jesus’ first visit to our planet and anticipate his return. We’ve between his first and second coming.

    As humans, we tend to focus on milestones, significant dates, memorable times. We all have defining moments in our lives, but usually we are living between those occasions. For example, it’s probably not your birthday, but you had one this year…or will tomorrow.

    It’s been said that fathers are celebrated once a year while moms have two holidays: Mother’s Day and Labor Day! Although we are months away from either, we’re going to look at the life of the most famous mom of all…Mary.

    Her story began about nine months before the birth of Jesus, a day we celebrated last week, but her work was just beginning. She was the only person at both the birth and death of Jesus. We don’t have time to look at every mention of Mary in the New Testament, but we’re going to continue our study of the beginning of the gospel or good news of Luke in chapter 2 and see Mary the mother, a woman of God.

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

    Jesus was the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “Yahweh is salvation.” It was a common name at the time, but note it was not chosen by Mary or Joseph, but rather Gabriel the angel. Mary and Joseph kept the laws of Judaism.

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

    Jesus was dedicated by His parents to the Lord using the offering of the poor, a pair of birds, though middle classes also made such sacrifices.” Fortunately for us, we do not have to slaughter animals in the process of dedicating our children to God, but this was the Old Testament Law.

    Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25-26)

    The common shepherds were the first to visit Jesus. Simeon, however, was a wise, godly elder empowered by the Holy Spirit which is significant, especially before Acts chapter two. He was given a promise by God, and the LORD always keeps his promises…and Simeon was no exception.

    Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: (Luke 2:27-28)

    “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
    For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

    Jesus was a Jew. His culture was Jewish, but his mission would include the Gentiles, a radical concept for Israel. All the nations will see God’s plan of salvation. The glory of Israel is the Messiah, the bearer of promise. Imagery from the prophet Isaiah is evident here.

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

    That’s not the kind of blessing I’d want to hear as a parent! This king will clearly be different than Caesar. Suffering has been a part of first-century life and not only will it not end anytime soon, Jesus will share in the suffering. The Messiah will live among his people. The kingdom of God will confront the kingdom of the world, and confrontation is never pretty.

    There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.
    She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

    Like Mary, here’s another devoted, godly woman. Talk about surrender! She worshiped, fasted, and prayed night and day. That makes our hour on Sunday look so trivial.

    I love that Luke included this widow in his account.

    Luke has told us Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles. We have seen young and old in this story. The great thing about our faith is it’s available to everyone: boys, girls, men, women, black, white, brown, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Democrats, Republicans, …the story of Jesus can become anyone’s story.

    When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. (Luke 2:39-40)

    Now we come to one of my favorite parenting stories in the Bible! There’s plenty of context missed in reading this story 2000 years later, but it’s astonishing on the surface. We jump forward twelve years.

    Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:41-43)

    This is the reverse of Home Alone! Mary and Joseph head home, leaving Jesus behind. Have you ever lost Jesus? It’s easy for us to get so busy and distracted that we’re not even aware we’ve left him. Perhaps even last week you left Jesus in the manger while you focused on the food, gifts, or even the family. It was his birthday, yet we opened the presents! When we’ve lost Jesus, we need to search for him in prayer, in the Bible…and not given up until we find him.

    Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. (Luke 2:44-45)

    Obviously, this wasn’t a three-person journey. People often traveled in large groups to avoid bandits along the path, among other things. This was an annual pilgrimage. But you would expect a “good” parent to know whether or not their twelve-year-old was with them on such a trip. It seems likely Mary and Joseph returned without the rest of the party, a potentially dangerous journey to a potentially dangerous city.

    After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (Luke 2:46-48)

    Have you ever blamed someone else for your mistake? I love the humanity of Mary. She blames Jesus but she’s the one who left the city without her young son! I believe the Bible is true and it’s raw moments such as this that verify it for me. You can’t make this stuff up! For the record, Jerusalem is 90 miles from Nazareth.

    I supposed Jesus could’ve responded by saying, “Why did you leave without me?” Instead, Mary’s perfect Son offers an even more radical reply.

    “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:49-50)

    Mary had said, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you,” yet Jesus was focused on his Heavenly Father. Jesus knew his mission, even as a boy. He considered his time in the temple necessary. It will certainly not be his last visit there.

    Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:51-52)

    Jesus was an obedient son. Of course! This would be the end of Jesus’ story from Luke until some seventeen years later.

    Here again we see Mary treasuring all these things in her heart. She knew from before his birth this child was special. She was the mother of the Messiah. It’s hard to imagine the responsibility, the opportunity, the challenge, the blessing. Mary never forgot.

    I want to briefly note two other motherhood moments as we conclude our series
    Mary Christmas.

    In the second chapter of John, Mary tells her son at a wedding, “They have no more wine,” prompting Jesus to miraculous turn about 150 gallons of water into the finest wine.

    In the third chapter of Mark, we see Mary and Jesus’ brothers looking for Jesus. His response: “Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” It was not meant to slam his family, but can you imagine how they felt?

    So What?

    Moms, you can relate to Mary better than anyone. You know the joys and heartache of not only parenting but doing what only moms can do. We can only imagine the conversations she had with Jesus, the questions she asked, the haunting words of Simeon throughout His growth, and the mystery of His identity.

    Parenting is really a stewardship. As humans, we often think things belong to us. That’s my car. Those are my toys. I give my money. This is my body. Those are my kids. The reality is everything we have is a gift on loan from God. The car might become totaled, the toys broken, the money lost, the body decayed. And even our children are not ours. This became especially real on my daughter’s wedding day. I was asked, “Who gives this woman to this man?” and I said, “Her mother and I.” Our girl was no longer ours, but now given to our son in-love.

    Mary watched Jesus grow from a babe in a manger to a circumcised infant to a twelve year-old teaching in the temple to a miraculous wine-maker. She must’ve been so proud when he taught and amazed when he healed. I imagine she was offended when he redefined his family as whoever does God’s will. She was devastated when he was tortured and then executed on the cross, stunned when she found his tomb empty, and overjoyed to see him after the resurrection.

    Such is the roller coaster of parenting…the roller coaster of life. 2018 was filled with many average, uneventful days. There were also defining moments—both good and bad, some expected and some surprising. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict 2019 will be the same! There will be highs and lows, ordinary days and extraordinary ones. We will have opportunities to influence what happens next year, but so many things are simply beyond our control.

    For followers of Jesus, that’s ok. God is sovereign. God is in control. Nothing surprises Him. 2018 was not unexpected for God and neither will be 2019. Like a drone soaring high above a tour bus on the highway, God can see not only this moment but those behind and ahead of us.

    We are in the in between—between the first and second comings of Jesus, between Christmas and New Year’s, almost between 2018 and 2019—but God is here…and there. He is good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it (and I had several moments this year when it didn’t feel like it!). The Kingdom of God is advancing, even as the kingdom of this world continues to succeed.

    As I wrap up my final sermon of 2018, I want to challenge you with two things:

    Give thanks. I know, Thanksgiving was last month, but now is a great time to reflect upon God’s blessings. No matter who you are, there’s plenty of reasons to be thankful. Tomorrow at 7 PM we will gather together here and do exactly that. It will be a time of reflection, a time of sharing, an opportunity to testify of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I think you’ll be encouraged as you hear stories of what God this year in and through our church family.

    Give yourself. Surrender. Let go and let God. This is a radical idea, especially in our culture where we think we’re in control of so much of our lives. As I’ve often said, Jesus didn’t come to start another religion. He’s not looking for people to agree with doctrinal statements or impress others with their biblical knowledge. He showed us what it means to be human and asks for nothing less than total surrender. If you think Mary was offended when Jesus redefined his family, imagine how she felt when he said,

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

    Did Jesus mean we are to hate our family? Certainly not. He meant in comparison to our devotion to God, our love for our family and even our own lives must be minimal. He continued,

    And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27

    He’s looking for 24/7/365 followers, men and women who have died to their agendas and surrendered to God’s will. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.” That means every day of 2019 belongs to Jesus. Every penny in your piggy bank, purse, bank account, and investment portfolio belongs to Jesus. Your plans for others—including your family members—belongs to Jesus. Your dreams for the future, your hopes for our church, your political preferences, and your talents belong to Jesus. Every second on the calendar is subject to interruption because it belongs to Jesus.

    Today we close with a popular song many of us have sung countless times, yet putting the lyrics into practice is far more challenging—and rewarding—than simply singing, “I Surrender All.” I’m waiting for someone to write, “I Surrender Some” or “I Surrender All When I Feel Like It,” but that’s not what Jesus requires of His followers. He doesn’t recognize part-time disciples. He’s looking for people who are willing to count the cost, suffer, and be all-in, no matter what.

    Mary was all-in. Mothers have to be all-in when they give birth, but throughout her life she was passionately devoted to God, a wonderful example for all of us. Simeon and Anna are also examples in our text of true followers of the LORD. Even at age 12 Jesus was committed to the Father’s will.

    As we prepare for the new year, it’s my hope and prayer that we would passionately pursue God like never before—as individuals and as a family together—in 2019. Let’s resolve to know God better…and make Him known.

    I Surrender All

    Credits: some ideas from The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Freed from Sin, 28 October 2018

    Freed from Sin
    D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundations
    Romans 6

    Series Overview: Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

    Big Idea: We are no longer slaves to sin, but rather servants of the Most High God.

    We live in a very divisive society. Have you noticed? Dan Rogers likes to say everything seems to be binary. You are either a Republican and hate Democrats or you’re a Democrats and hate Republicans. The same can be said for Wolverines and Buckeyes or any number of categories. Where’s the nuance?

    The older I get, I see less black and white and more gray. There is a middle. Compromise is often a possibility. For that matter, my dad taught me to always root for the Big Ten so this Wolverine boy even cheers for that school to our south…except the Saturday after Thanksgiving, of course!

    Life can be very gray—and I don’t mean scarlet and gray—but there are some realities which are mutually exclusive and either/or. Jesus famously said,

    “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24a, Luke 16:13a)

    While he was speaking of God and money, a similar statement can be made of God and sin. You can serve God or sin. God or the world. God or self. We must choose. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment.

    Today we continue our series
    Faith’s Foundations, a run through Romans. We’re looking at the sixth chapter of this incredible book written by Paul to some of the first Christians in Rome. To quote Joshua 24:15, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”

    Last week we looked at the binary choice we have to make for our sins—eternal punishment or accepting the grace of Jesus. He died for us. Our only hope is not in our pathetic good works, but in the saving faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Praise God for His amazing grace, unmerited favor, gift of salvation. Hallelujah!

    What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

    Paul faced two extremes which are still rampant today, legalism and license. Some were preaching the importance of good works as if they could ever save us from eternal separation from a holy and perfect God. Others were saying since we have grace, let’s just do what we want because Jesus paid the price for all of our sins. Rather than legalism or license, we are to experience liberty.

    If we set aside Judgment Day and eternity for a moment, sin is never beneficial. Think about your most troublesome sin, your most annoying temptation. Maybe it’s worry or gossip. It could be porn or unbridled anger. Perhaps it’s envy or workaholism. Whatever it is, how has it brought peace, joy, and satisfaction to your life? Exactly! It hasn’t! Sin only brings temporary pleasure. Like eating chocolate-covered poop, what follows is never worth it! Sin leads to death—death of relationships, finances, and sometimes even physical death. We have a real enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy. He tempts, then accuses. He never plays fair!

    Last Sunday we celebrated the joy of experience grace—forgiveness, peace, reconciliation with our Creator, hope…

    Our response to God and the gift of the cross and empty tomb should never be the pursuit of sin, but rather the pursuit of God. You don’t say thank you for a gift by abusing it. You take care of it. You express your gratitude. You respond in love and kindness.

    Jesus died for our sins. He set an example for us to follow—dying to sin. This doesn’t mean we accept Jesus and never sin. The battle continues, but our allegiance is no longer to satan and sin, but to our Savior and salvation. We have died to sin.

    Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)

    The book of Ephesians is filled with a wonderful phrase—in Christ. It means that we are united with Christ. Everything that can be said about Jesus can be said about us. Water baptism brilliantly shows physically the spiritual reality of discipleship—dying to our self and sins and old nature in the water grave and emerging out of the water as new creations, resurrected and following Jesus Christ with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

    For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7)

    Baptism is a symbol of dying and rising, but there’s another layer of meaning. For Paul, baptism is an exodus image, a Passover image. Coming through the waters is an image of slaves getting freed.

    Do you want to be a slave to sin? That’s how most people live, addicted to sin. It may or may not be alcohol or drugs, but any sin can control us, rule us, enslave us.

    But Jesus has conquered sin. Jesus has conquered death. Last week we looked at the doctrine of justification by faith which is a part of the powerful gospel through which we are transformed into renewed human beings. The Messiah died and rose as a representative of his people, creating a new reality for the rescued, forgiven, and freed who follow him.

    I know it feels as though we are still dragged down by sin, but Paul says remember who you are in the Messiah. We already stand on resurrected ground. We are set free from sin. We are not free
    to sin! We are to know this. We are to fill our minds with this truth.

    Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (Romans 6:8-10)

    This is such great news! Jesus has conquered death. Once for all. He died to sin. If we die with him, we will also live with him…for the glory of God. We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

    A.W. Tozer, in writing about “The Deeper Life,” said,

    To enter upon such a life, seekers must be ready to accept without question the New Testament as the one final authority on spiritual matters. They must be willing to make Christ the one supreme Lord and ruler in their lives. They must surrender their whole being to the destructive power of the cross, to die not only to their sins but to their righteousness as well as to everything in which they formerly prided themselves.
    If this should seem like a heavy sacrifice for anyone to make, let it be remembered that Christ is Lord and can make any demands upon us that He chooses, even to the point of requiring that we deny ourselves and bear the cross daily. The mighty anointing of the Holy Spirit that follows will restore to the soul infinitely more than has been taken away. It is a hard way, but a glorious one. Those who have known the sweetness of it will never complain about what they have lost. They will be too well pleased with what they have gained.

    That’s radical! But doesn’t it make sense? We can serve sin or God? But not both.

    In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

    Some translations say reckon yourselves dead to sin but alive to God. This is an accounting term. We must calculate ourselves, add it up. The Messiah has died and been raised. We’re in Christ so therefore we have died in him and are alive to God. This is our status. Reckon it. Count it. Deal with it!

    Paul doesn’t say sin less. He does say manage your sin or try to avoid it. He says count yourselves dead to sin. But you can’t just eliminate something from your life. You must replace it with something else.

    I’m told many alcoholics turn to smoking or even gum when they are trying to rid themselves of the bottle. If you want to stop eating donuts, keep some carrots handy. Die to sin…and come alive to God in Christ Jesus.

    Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:12-13)

    We are to offer no part of ourselves to sin. This means our heart, soul, mind, and strength; our eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, thoughts, attitudes. God wants it all.

    Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

    Jesus says all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

    I believe the problem in our world is not “those people” who don’t know Christ. It’s those of us who call ourselves Christians and yet act nothing like Jesus. We may look religious on Sunday morning, but return to our sin on Monday. We give our leftovers in the offering plate if there’s anything left over after our binge shopping on Amazon.

    Let me put it this way: my wife wants me to be faithful to her. 24/7/365. Is that unreasonable? What if I told her I would be devoted to her on Sundays but acted differently during the week?

    Perhaps Jesus’ half-brother, James, says it best.

    With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:9-12)

    What will it be? Sin or grace?

    For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

    Paul wants us to know the truth so the truth can set us free.

    He wants us to have orthodoxy—right thinking—so we can engage in orthopraxy, right living.

    We are dead to sin and alive to God.
    We are to refuse sin’s reign in our lives.
    We are to offer ourselves to God…completely. 100%

    What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18)

    We can be slaves to sin or righteousness. It’s one or the other.

    Obviously the word “slavery” has nothing but negative connotations in our culture. Tragically, there are more slaves on our planet today than at any time in history. A slave is subject to their master. Sin is a terrible, destructive master.

    Becoming a servant of the Most High God, on the other hand, is a blessing, a privilege, a liberating, life-giving, satisfying experience.

    I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:19-22)

    I love the contrast—death or eternal life. What do you choose?

    For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

    This verse is often used to speak of non-Christians, but it was written to Christians.

    When you serve a master, you can expect to be paid wages. Sin pays death. God pays holiness and eternal life.

    The fruit of sin is shame.
    The fruit of God is joy.

    Death or the gift of God. What do you choose?

    So What?

    So much of what Paul seems to be addressing is the abuse of grace. If God forgives all of my sins, why not just eat, drink and be merry? In a word, death. Again, all sin leads to death of one kind or another. Words like holiness and righteousness have been abused to convey holier-than-thou and self-righteousness. That’s not at all what Paul’s talking about. He’s saying we need to choose—the world or God?

    Later in Romans, Paul will write,

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

    The problem with living sacrifices, of course, is they can move! They can get off the altar! We are to surrender to God, yield, live for Him, not because He’s a control freak, but because He knows us, loves us, and is the source of all life, hope, freedom, and peace.

    We are to know we have been crucified with Christ and are dead to sin.
    We are to reckon this to be true in our lives.
    We are to yield and surrender our bodies to be used for God’s glory.

    Once again I want to give you an opportunity to respond. There’s not one of us in this room who has lived a perfect week. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Where have you failed? What part of your body have you not fully surrendered? Maybe it’s your negative tongue, lustful eyes, or gluttonous stomach. Perhaps it’s an anxious and fearful heart or envious attitudes. Your feet might be taking you to unhealthy places or your hands are holding tightly onto your agenda and will rather than trusting God with your future.

    Don’t think you can do it alone. You need the Holy Spirit. You also need other people. Celebrate Recovery meets on Wednesday nights not only for addicts but anyone struggling with grief, loss, pain, or temptation. That’s all of us! We have small groups that meet throughout the week.

    We no longer have to be slaves to sin, but rather we are invited to become servants of the Most High God.

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

    When Under Attack, 29 April 2018

    When Under Attack
    D6 Series—
    Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
    Psalm 109

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

    Big Idea: God is our shield and help when we experience injustice and opposition.

    Scripture Reading: Psalm 109:30-31

    With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD;
    in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him.
    For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
    to save their lives from those who would condemn them. (Psalms 109:30-31)

    Isn’t that nice? God stands at the right hand of the needy. So that means when we get a flat tire, God is with us. When we catch the flu, God will help us. We will praise the LORD even if we don’t get the promotion we were hoping or when we experience ridicule for being a Christian.

    But what about serious condemnation? Where is God when things get really rough?

    Jesus famously told his followers…

    …you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)

    That word “witnesses” in the original Greek is “martus,” related to our word “martyr.”

    We’ve all experienced injustice and opposition in our lives, but few of us can say our lives have been in jeopardy. I rarely hear of people martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ on American soil, and for that we can be grateful, not only to God but also those who have fought for our freedom.

    Throughout history, godly men and women have been threatened. They have had contracts on their lives. They have been hunted down. Can you imagine? What would you do if you received a death threat?

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

    On Resurrection Sunday, we saw glimpses of the suffering Jesus in Psalm 22. Then we looked at the Messianic nature of Psalm 72 and God’s love expressed in Psalm 89. Last Sunday we looked at what it means to bless or praise the LORD in Psalm 103.

    Our psalm for today is 109 and it is quite different from the previous psalms we have examined. This psalm was used by Thomas Hardy in his novel
    The Mayor of Casterbridge. It is often called an imprecatory psalm, a zealous prayer and song to God calling out the wicked. This psalm is similar to Psalm 69, but here the writer is innocent, not a wrongdoer. He is a victim, yet his response to his enemies is somewhat surprising.

    For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

    My God, whom I praise,
    do not remain silent,
    for people who are wicked and deceitful
    have opened their mouths against me;
    they have spoken against me with lying tongues. (Psalms 109:1-2)

    Has anyone ever lied about you? Gossiped about you? Slandered you? How does it feel? David understands. He wants God to intervene, to take action, to not remain silent. God, where are you? Do you see this? Do you hear this?

    With words of hatred they surround me;
    they attack me without cause. (Psalms 109:3)

    Remember that old expression, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”? What a lie! Words can actually lead to our bones being broken! Charles Spurgeon said, “In all Satan’s armoury there are no worse weapons than deceitful tongues.”

    In return for my friendship they accuse me,
    but I am a man of prayer. (Psalms 109:4)

    Satan is called the accuser. These people are satanic, they are accusers. David is
    innocent, yet he is being attacked. What a contrast—accusations and prayer. His
    enemies are talking falsely about him to others and David is talking to God. What
    does David do when treated unjustly? He drops to his knees. The Hebrew says literally,
    “But I prayer.” In other words, he’s all about prayer. Are you?

    I wish I could say prayer is always my first response to attack. It’s not. I get defensive. I strategize a retaliation. I seek revenge. My mind refuses to shut off, engaging in imaginary conversations. I want justice. I want to cry, “Foul!”

    They repay me evil for good,
    and hatred for my friendship. (Psalms 109:5)

    No good deed goes unpunished! Notice David’s mention of friendship. No one can hurt you like a friend. You can sometimes forget the words of a stranger, but wounds from those we love run deep. Now David goes into a tirade against his enemy, a singular man. These verses are incredible!

    Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
    let an accuser stand at his right hand.
    When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
    and may his prayers condemn him.
    May his days be few;
    may another take his place of leadership. (Psalms 109:6-8)

    Peter quotes this last verse in Acts 1:20 as fulfillment of Judas’ death.

    We don’t know if David was king when this was written, but David was a warrior. Do you remember what he did to Goliath? It’s important to understand David did not act upon these curses. He left the heavy lifting for God after he poured out his heart.

    May his children be fatherless
    and his wife a widow.
    May his children be wandering beggars;
    may they be driven from their ruined homes.
    May a creditor seize all he has;
    may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
    May no one extend kindness to him
    or take pity on his fatherless children.
    May his descendants be cut off,
    their names blotted out from the next generation.
    May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;
    may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. (Psalms 109:9-14)

    Have you ever felt that way? He’s not done!

    May their sins always remain before the LORD,
    that he may blot out their name from the earth.
    For he never thought of doing a kindness,
    but hounded to death the poor
    and the needy and the brokenhearted.
    He loved to pronounce a curse—
    may it come back on him. (Psalms 109:15-17)

    David’s saying, “Do unto him as he has done unto me. Curse him as he has cursed

    He found no pleasure in blessing—
    may it be far from him.
    He wore cursing as his garment;
    it entered into his body like water,
    into his bones like oil.
    May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
    like a belt tied forever around him. (Psalms 109:18-19)

    Now he shifts from an individual to a plural group, perhaps the people led by the man.

    May this be the LORD’S payment to my accusers,
    to those who speak evil of me. (Psalms 109:20)

    He’s honest! He declares his desires, but leaves the matter to the LORD. Then David
    speaks one of the most important words in the English language—“but.”

    But you, Sovereign LORD,
    help me for your name’s sake;
    out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. (Psalms 109:21)

    What do we do in the midst of distress? Call upon the LORD. Ask God for help. Seek
    deliverance. Ask for protection, not on the basis of your own goodness but on the basis
    of God’s name and goodness.

    For I am poor and needy,
    and my heart is wounded within me.
    I fade away like an evening shadow;
    I am shaken off like a locust. (Psalms 109:22-23)

    Even great men like David—king or not—are but dust. Whether we acknowledge it or
    not, we all need God.

    My knees give way from fasting;
    my body is thin and gaunt.
    I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
    when they see me, they shake their heads. (Psalms 109:24-25)

    This is hardly the picture we expect of David! He’s thin and gaunt, pitiful and disgusting.

    Help me, LORD my God;
    save me according to your unfailing love. (Psalms 109:26)

    The appeal is not David’s goodness, but God’s love and mercy.

    Let them know that it is your hand,
    that you, LORD, have done it. (Psalms 109:27)

    He wants God to receive the glory, not himself.

    While they curse, may you bless;
    may those who attack me be put to shame,
    but may your servant rejoice.
    May my accusers be clothed with disgrace
    and wrapped in shame as in a cloak. (Psalms 109:28-29)

    God’s blessings will always be greater than the curses of our enemies. David rejoices
    knowing God is in control and will have the last word.

    Now we see the context for today’s scripture reading.

    With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD;
    in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him.
    For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
    to save their lives from those who would condemn them. (Psalms 109:30-31)

    At the end of the day, David knows God is real. He knows his calamity is temporary, his life is but a vapor, a gift. He knows no matter the circumstances, God is worthy of praise, of blessing, of extoling, of worship. His story is not over. There is hope.

    So What?

    D6: The fact that we face opposition and attack because of our faith demonstrates that we are engaged in a spiritual warfare.

    The writer of the book of Romans had some radical things to say about our enemies.

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19)

    Then he quotes Proverbs 25…

    On the contrary:

    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)

    If we are to follow the example of David, we should ask God to curse our enemies, right? That sounds like a reasonable application. After all, David was called a man after God’s own heart. Of course, that doesn’t mean he was perfect. But I love his honesty. He tells God how he feels. He expresses his emotions—constructively.

    You may have been told to never get emotional. Big boys don’t cry. Don’t let them see you sweat. Never question God. Bury your feelings.

    I think David would vehemently disagree! His language is raw. It’s passionate. He feels, but he channels his emotions appropriately. He gets real, but then gives it to God. This is the same God who said,

    It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
    In due time their foot will slip;
    their day of disaster is near
    and their doom rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

    It’s as if God says to us, “Thanks for sharing. I’ll take it from here.”

    D6: God is the Sovereign Lord of all. He alone is qualified to deal with those who oppose and attack us.

    Generations later, a descendent of David would pray speak harsh condemnations, too. Jesus said of Judas…

    The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21)

    He said of the Jewish leaders…

    Jesus answered,
    “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (John 19:11)

    Jesus was not always nice, but he never sinned, even in his anger, outraged by injustice. And Jesus not only expressed his feelings of outrage, he articulated radical love. In the presence of his enemies, as he is hanging on the cross…

    Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34)

    What do you do when you’re angry? When you’ve been slandered, oppressed, wronged? I want to encourage you to get real, give it to God, and pray for your enemy.

    Why? Why forgive? Why pray for our enemies?

    First, they are as worthy of forgiveness as you and I. Forgiveness is never deserved. Remember what Jesus taught us to pray?

    Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. (Luke 11:4a, NIV)

    Jesus died for them, too. They might one day surrender to Christ. What if they repent and become your friend?

    Ultimately, we must relinquish control of our pain, let go and let God. He will judge. He will deal with all sins…and sinners one day.

    And one more thing…fear not. God is in control. No weapon—or person—will prevail.

    “See, it is I who created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals into flame
    and forges a weapon fit for its work.
    And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
    no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
    This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
    declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:16-17)

    some ideas from D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Sent: Preaching & Anointing

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Others said, “He is Elijah.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What an incredible story.

    So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Invitation: Repent & Believe, 14 May 2017

    Invitation: Repent & Believe
    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.


    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,

    “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.
  • Innkeeper, 11 December 2016

    Series: First Christmas
    Matthew 1:18-25

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

    Big Idea: Advent is about making room for Jesus.


    You always make room…especially when it comes to God. Or do you? Do you?

    Today we’re talking about space. I don’t mean Mars and Jupiter. I mean room, capacity. It’s been said no matter how much space you have, you always fill it.

    This is true of memory on your cell phone or computer.
    It’s true of your closet.
    It’s true of your garage.
    It’s true of your calendar.
    It’s true of your heart.

    My name is Kirk and during this season of Advent—this season of waiting—we are looking at the First Christmas through the eyes of various characters in the story. We’ve looked at the Wise Men and Elizabeth. Today we turn to the Innkeeper.

    Before we discuss the innkeeper, we need to set a few things straight. Our understanding of Christmas has been plagued by many myths.

    For example, we noted two weeks ago how we don’t know how many magi visited Jesus. Maybe three. Maybe twelve. We have no idea. The Bible never says anything about them being kings. Even though they came with our nativity scene, they likely arrived on the scene a year or two after Jesus was born.

    Now about the inn. As a kid watching Christmas pageants I was led to believe Mary and Joseph journeyed on a donkey to an ancient version of a Holiday Inn, all of the rooms were booked, and they hung out in a nearby barn filled with hay, animals, and a wooden manger where Jesus laid comfortably…no crying he made (“Away in a Manger”).

    Actually, there was no space (room) in the "upper room" of a private house because other family members had arrived there first. This was not a motel or public dwelling. Look at the text of Luke chapter two:

    So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. (Luke 2:4)

    You may recall Caesar Augustus called for a census. In our nation, we have a census every ten years, a form every citizen is required to complete in order to know about the people in our country.

    Two thousand years ago they didn’t have the Internet, FedEx, or even the Post Office to deliver mail, so people had to travel to their own register. Joseph’s ancestral home was Bethlehem. He was a descendant of King David, and David was born in Bethlehem.

    He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  (Luke 2:5-7)

    In case you were wondering, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. Of course Mary and Joseph were not crows, so they probably walked more than 90 miles—likely four or five days on foot. Maybe they had a donkey…maybe not. There’s no donkey mentioned in the biblical account.

    What’s the longest you’ve ever walked in a day? How many steps, FitBit owners?!

    Moms, can you imagine walking to The Palace of Auburn Hills, north of Detroit…nine months pregnant?

    One of the challenges with the Christmas story is it’s too familiar. We’ve sanitized its harsh realities into cute figurines we put near the fireplace or kids dressed in bathrobes performing Christmas pageants.

    The “holy night when Christ was born” was not the only night of the journey. It simply represented what was likely their first night in Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthday. What did they do the other days?

    Good Jews were expected to offer hospitality to travelers. It was common for people to have a guest room in their home for such occasions. Animals would live on the ground level and people would live upstairs. Perhaps Joseph and Mary camped during their journey. They may have traveled with others in a group for safety from lions, bears, or bandits. This was not an uncommon journey. In fact, later in Luke chapter two we are told

    Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

    But let’s return to our text.

    While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  (Luke 2:6-7)

    She gave birth to her firstborn. There would be other children.

    There was no guest room available for them. Most ancient Jewish homes had a common area on the main level, including a manger where animals ate and slept at night, and an upper room where everyone slept. The upstairs was full. It’s possible there was a separate barn, but this would often be attached to the house directly. They were unable to find private quarters for the birth since no guest room was available in a home. Tradition says Jesus was actually born not in a barn, but rather in a cave nearby.

    Here’s a photo of the traditional place in Bethlehem where Jesus may have been born. Heather took this last month when she was in Israel. It hardly looks like our nativity set!

    We assume there was an innkeeper…more accurately a homeowner—likely a relative— who had no room in his guest room for Joseph and Mary. At least they found shelter in a cave.

    Sometimes the innkeeper gets a bad rap, but imagine you have a packed house and a friend calls last-minute and asks to crash on your couch. What do you do? If there’s no room, maybe you tell them they can set up your camping tent in the backyard!

    Then again, if you knew how significant these travelers were, you would’ve done anything for them! Hindsight is 20/20, right?

    If I had known the iPhone would change the world, I would’ve bought Apple stocks when everyone was saying they were headed toward bankruptcy.

    If I had known he was really that drunk I would have taken his keys.

    If I had known those jalapenos were that hot, I wouldn’t have ordered that burrito!

    If I had known she was carrying the Christ child, I would have given them my own bed.

    Instead, Joseph and Mary slept on the ground floor with the animals, under the sleeping quarters of their relatives, under the upper room. The Greek word here (
    kataluma) is the same as the place where Jesus celebrated Passover and had his Last Supper with his disciples before he was crucified.

    So why do we think there was a stable, a barn, or even a cave? The only hint of such a thing is that Jesus was born in a
    manger, a food trough for animals. We often depict mangers as wooden beds with hay, but ancient mangers were probably made with something like concrete. In my research, I discovered,

    “Guest rooms were typically in the front of houses and the animal shelters were in the back of the house or the lower level (in a cave). In the family shelter, the family animals were fed and protected at night from the cold, thieves, and predators. So Joseph and Mary were lodged on the lower level or in the back of the house—the animal shelter. Most likely, the animals were removed while the couple lodged there. (There is no mention of animals in Luke’s or Matthew’s account. St. Francis is credited with building the first manger scene complete with live animals.)”

    So What?

    Advent is about making room for Jesus.

    Did Joseph’s relative make room in his house for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. No. Space was made below in the area animals would typically spend the night. They received the leftovers rather than the finest hospitality.

    What about you? Are you making room for Jesus?
    Some people ignore God 167 hours a week and think an hour on Sunday will be sufficient.

    Some people spend all of their money—and then some—on stuff for themselves and feel good if they drop a ten or twenty in the offering plate.

    Some people like the parts of the Bible which talk about blessings and rewards but make no room for the challenging teachings of surrender and sacrifice.

    Some people are fans of Jesus, but they’re not truly followers.

    Let me get very practical. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We often call church buildings “houses of God,” but really we are the houses, the places where God dwells. Have you allowed God into all of your house?

    What about the study or library of your house? That’s where you think. Do your thoughts bring glory to God?

    The living room is where we hang out with friends. Is there room in your relationships for God, or do you keep Him out of your friendships?

    The dining room is where we feed our desires. Is there room for God in the things you consume?

    The bedroom is where intimacy is experienced. Have you surrendered your sexuality to God or is he locked out?

    The rec room is where we watch movies, listen to music, read books, and play games. Have you made room for God in your hobbies and entertainment?

    The attic is where we hide things, things we don’t want others to see, things we hoard and can’t get rid of like bitterness and envy. God would love for you to let Him there.

    The workroom is where…we work! God wants you to make room for Him on your commute, in the cubicle, at school, at the job site.


    I’m glad you made room for Jesus this morning. I really am. There are many things you could be doing now besides listening to God’s Word. The innkeeper—if there was such a person—Joseph’s relative made a little room for Jesus’ family, but it certainly wasn’t his best. They got the scraps, the leftovers.

    God’s glad you gave Him this hour, but He wants all of you. It’s only fair. He gave His very best for us—His only Son, Jesus. Jesus made room in his life for us. He stepped away from heaven and came down to live with us, to be God with us, Emmanuel.

    You always make room…especially when it comes to God. Where do you need to make room? Where do you need to surrender?

    I Surrender All

    • Credits
    Some ideas from

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Jesus our Sanctifier, The Gospel Truth, 15 March 2015

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

    Big Idea: Jesus is our Sanctifier, making us increasingly holy like Himself.


    This week we continue our series
    The Gospel Truth. We began last week looking at Jesus as Savior. Today we continue our look at the Fourfold Gospel examining Jesus as Sanctifier.

    It’s not uncommon for song lyrics and passages of scripture to contain unusual words. Sanctifier is one of those Christianese words that few outside of the faith understand…and few inside the faith understand! When we say Jesus is our Sanctifier we are expressing that He makes us like Himself. A year ago we said that followers of Jesus are “in Christ.” What can be said of Jesus can be said of us in the eyes of our heavenly Father, not because we are God or perfect like Christ, but because we essentially wear Jesus’ uniform. His blood purifies our sins and we can stand before a holy God who cannot tolerate sin, not because of what we’ve done but because Jesus is our Savior which we studied last week.

    Sanctification then is that God wants to make us in reality what we’ve already been declared to be in Christ. In other words, following Jesus is more than praying a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart so you’ll go to heaven when you die. Following Jesus is just that—following Him. Jesus is perfect. We are to be perfect. Jesus is holy. We are to be holy. Jesus has power and authority. We are to have power and authority.

    To be sanctified is to be holy, set apart. In one sense it occurs when we surrender our lives to God, yet it is a progressive process in which we become increasingly like Him—separated from sin and evil.

    Right about now you may be asking, “Why don’t I look like Jesus?” or “How is it possible for me to be like Christ?” That’s our topic today: sanctification, becoming holy and set apart like Jesus.


    What is your favorite food? Although my favorite dessert is ice cream, my favorite food is fruit. I love fruit! I’m not sure if it’s because most fruits are sweet or colorful or uniquely shaped or the texture but I love fruit. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a fruit I didn’t enjoy…unless it was bad fruit!

    Where does fruit come from? Meijer! Believe it or not, it does not just appear in the produce section!

    The Bible is filled with organic metaphors. God created our world, so it should come as no surprise He would use physical things to help us understand spiritual realities.

    Gardening is a powerful way to understand life. I’m an expert gardener…in growing weeds! I admire people who understand soil and plants and who can grow things
    other than weeds!

    Last week I listened to a brilliant podcast interview with Christine Sine in which she described the numerous parallels between the cultivation of her garden and the cultivation of her soul. Producing beautiful fruit requires preparation of the soil, generous fertilizer and water, enough sunlight, protection from hungry creatures, and the eradication of weeds that can choke the plants.

    Likewise if we want our lives to bear fruit we must confess our sins, flee temptation, fill our minds with the Word of God, feed upon Jesus, the Bread of Life, receive support from godly brothers and sisters, and pursue a deeper relationship with God and others. Jesus said it plainly in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John.

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

    How do we become like Jesus? We know Him.
    How do we know Jesus? We spend time with Him.
    How do we spend time with Jesus? We pray. We study the Bible. We spend time with people who know Jesus.

    They say many old couples look alike after years of marriage. They can finish each other’s sentences. They know what the other is thinking. That’s what happens when two people do life together, spend time with one another, know each other, and grow together. That’s what happens when we do life with Jesus—we begin to resemble Him!

    It takes time. It requires intentionality. It involves effort.

    When I placed a wedding ring on my bride’s finger nearly 25 years ago that wasn’t the end of our relationship. It was a tremendously significant moment, yet it was just the beginning. More than two decades later we’ve both invested in our relationship, and it has produced fruit (including three amazing children!). I didn’t just say vows and then tell her, “Have a nice life!” Over the years I have grown to be like her, and she has grown to be like me. We are both works in process, becoming like one another, but most of all both seeking to be like Jesus.

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

    It’s great to ask What Would Jesus Do? It’s far better to know Jesus so intimately and be so filled with the Holy Spirit that you don’t stop and ask—you instinctively do it! It’s natural. That’s sanctification. Jesus is our Sanctifier means He wants us to become like Him. He wants us to become Christians—little Christs. He wants us to love Him and love others, re-presenting Him to our desperate world.

    Are you connected to the vine? Do know know what God is saying to you? Are you obediently following Him?

    If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:6-8)

    If you know anything at all about plants, you know every branch must be connected to the trunk which must be connected to the roots. Any disconnect will result in poor or no fruit.

    When I was a kid I remember enjoying a pretty substantial tree in our front yard. One day I had the brilliant idea of taking a hatchet and carving my name into the tree. When my parents realized what I had done, they weren’t very pleased! Fortunately I did no permanent damage to the tree, but I could’ve killed it!

    Like many of you, I witnessed first-hand the destruction of trees by a very small bug known as the emerald ash borer. The nasty beetle from Asia was first formally identified in Canton, Michigan in 2002, believed to be introduced by overseas shipping materials. They attack ash trees through larval feeding that disrupts the flow of nutrients and water. This small bug is responsible for the destruction of literally tens of millions of ash trees and threatens to kill most of the 8.7 billion ash trees throughout North America.

    What a perfect metaphor for sin! Small, unsuspected sins invade our life, slowly disconnecting us from our source of life, Jesus. Sure, robbing a bank or killing your neighbor will damage your relationship with God—and keep you away from others as you sit in prison—but most often it’s small temptations that cause us to drift from our nourishment. We get too busy to pray, too busy to study the Bible, too busy to attend worship and Life Groups, too busy to share Jesus with others. We get greedy, buying things we don’t need until we can no longer be generous and serve those in desperate need. We compromise in small things like taxes, speed limits, truth-telling, and pride until we are able to rationalize the most blatant of sins.

    A Healthy Tree

    The first words of the Psalms paint an entirely different picture.

    Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

    That’s what I want my life to depict!

    What kind of fruit are you bearing? It could be no fruit, the result of disconnect from Jesus. It could be bad fruit such as

    sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:21-22)

    Or it could be the fruit of the Spirit:

    love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

    If we abide in Jesus, if we devote ourselves to Him, we will bear much, good fruit.

    The Alliance website says it like this:

    Many Christians understand God’s promise of salvation but do not experience the ongoing sanctifying work of Jesus Christ in their lives. For those who neither understand nor allow the Holy Spirit's control in their lives, the results have a profound effect.

    Unsuccessful struggle against sin and a lack of power in life and ministry frustrate those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior but not their Sanctifier, resulting in a lack of joy in their walk with Christ. At the point when we are born again, we become members of God’s family. We believe He paid the price for our sin and that his followers are—set apart from those are not born again—and are seen as holy because of what Christ has done.

    The Bible is filled with biological metaphors. We are a family—brothers and sisters. We are dead in our sins and resurrected with Christ as beautifully illustrated through baptism. In the book of Romans we read these powerful words:

    In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

    Some mistakenly think Christianity is a morality-based religion in which we are supposed to do good and be good. They see Jesus as someone who makes bad people good. Friends, the reality is Jesus came to make dead people come alive! Following Jesus is not merely an exercise in doing the right things. It is a vibrant, joy-filled journey in which possess—and are possessed by—the Holy Spirit. How?

    1. We thirst. We desire God, or at least want to want God.
    2. We ask. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you. Daily. Maybe hourly!
    3. We surrender. In essence, let go and let God. This means letting go of your time, talents and treasures. It means placing everything on the altar. Open your hands!
    4. Abide. Love is spelled T-I-M-E. There are no shortcuts.


    Most of us live busy lives. God created us to work, but also to rest. Most people work hard during the week and crash on the weekend. We are designed to work from a place of rest, not rest from work.

    Semi-circle copy

    The semi-circle depicts a pendulum moving from rest to work and back. There are daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms of rest and work. When Jesus speaks in John 15 of remaining or abiding, He’s speaking of resting in Him. We need times of rest and recreation with Jesus and our our families. If we ignore Sabbath and rest with God, we will eventually crash. If we allow Him to prune us and renew us as we abide with Him during times of rest, we will bear much fruit when we work.

    Are you abiding in Christ? Are you resting with Him? Are you spending quality time with Jesus, letting Him invite you into a deeper life of intimacy and faith while challenging you to greater levels of obedience and trust?

    When we talk about Jesus as fully God yet fully man, it’s easy to think since Jesus was God He was never really tempted. Sure, Hebrews 4:15 says He was tempted in every way like us, but didn’t He brush it away like a mosquito and then do all of His magic tricks, healing the sick and opening the eyes of the blind and raising the dead?

    Jesus said no to temptation and did supernatural works because He was filled with the Holy Spirit…the same Holy Spirit available to you and me. If we abide with Jesus, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will change. We will grow. We will bear fruit. We will look increasingly like Jesus.

    Paul wrote these words to the Church in Corinth:

    Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

    That’s remarkable!


    Dallas Willard famously referred to those seeking salvation apart from sanctification and lordship as “vampire Christians” who only want a little blood but have no interest in following Jesus now. It’s one thing for Jesus to be our Savior and another to be truly LORD.

    A few weeks ago we said one of our family rules is the Make Disciples. Disciples are students or imitators of their discipler. We are to be students and followers and imitators of Jesus.

    It’s a life-long process, but if we hunger after God, if we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us, if we confess our sins and surrender our will, and if we abide, He will make us new. He will transform us into new creations like Jesus. He is able to take whatever mess we offer Him and make it beautiful. That’s our Sanctifier!


    Some material taken from
    The Fourfold Gospel, a C&MA/DNA publication.

    Semi-circle LifeShape from Mike Breen and

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

    Kingdom: Joseph, 14 September 2014

    Big Idea: God challenges us to represent Him in His Kingdom as we make Him LORD and King.


    Last week we said the Bible is a big book. It’s actually a library of 66 books. We usually study it verse-by-verse, like looking through a microscope. This series will look at it through a telescope, examining the big idea of the Bible.

    Our new series this fall is called Covenant & Kingdom. It is based upon ideas from Mike Breen and 3DMovements, a ministry that has been quite influential in the life of Scio in recent days. The book, Covenant & Kingdom, is available through Amazon or from I encourage you to get a copy and read ahead as we look at the big picture of the Bible.

    Covenant and Kingdom are woven throughout the Scriptures like a double helix is woven in DNA.

    Covenant is a sacred treaty in which two parties become one. In ancient times, this always involved the shedding of blood by an animal to to imply consequences for failure to fulfill the agreement.

    God made a covenant with Abram, promising blessings to him and his offspring in order for them to bless the world.

    Covenant is about relationship. Being.

    Kingdom is about responsibility. Doing.

    Life is filled with tension between being and doing, relationship and responsibility, being invited into relationship with God while also being challenged to represent Him and bless the world.

    Invitation and challenge.

    As we look at this idea of challenge, of kingdom, of doing God’s work in the world we are going to look at one of the most important characters in the Bible—Joseph.


    Abraham has a son named Isaac who has a son named Jacob who has twelve sons, the eleventh being his favorite son, Joseph.

    The story of Joseph begins in
    Genesis 37

    Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. (Genesis 37:2b)

    Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. (Genesis 37:3-4)

    Do you have siblings? Do you have sibling rivalry? Imagine your younger sibling was given three desserts at dinner, triple allowance, and the new iPhone the day it is released? To your parents you would probable say, “It’s not…fair!” You would likely become envious of your sib and despise them.

    Joseph had eleven brothers who were sick of him. He was a gifted, handsome, arrogant teenager who believed he was the center of the universe. That alone is recipe for disaster! Then his dad gives him a special coat with long sleeves, a sign of the supervisor’s role!

    Next Joseph has two dreams (37:5-10), one in which the grain of his brothers bowed to his, the other in which the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed to him. Joseph is not only the center of his universe, his dreams confirm it!

    Jacob sends Joseph to his brothers who are grazing the flocks. They plot to kill him, but Reuben insists they throw him into a cistern instead. The brothers strip him of his robe, throw him into the empty well, and sold him to Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt where he was sold to “Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard” (37:36).

    The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. (39:2)

    His life had gone from wonderful to dreadful and now things are looking up. It says two things: the LORD was with Joseph and he prospered. What changed? Perhaps Joseph was broken by his rejection by his brothers. He almost certainly cried out to God for help. I’m sure he was a bit confused by his fortunes when he goes from elaborate dreams to being thrown into an empty well. Instead of his brothers bowing down to him, they almost kill him!

    Joseph is no longer the center of the universe. God moves to Joseph’s center.

    My favorite passage in the Bible says

    Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

    I believe during those difficult moments of rejection by his brothers Joseph began to trust God. He had nowhere else to turn.

    Sometimes that’s God’s plan—to get our attention in order to become LORD.

    Rarely does someone on top of the world—or the center of their own universe—turn to God. What’s the point?! They have everything they need and want. It’s usually during a crisis that we surrender to God.

    Perhaps you were told Jesus died for you so you could pray a prayer, be forgiven, and go to heaven when you die. That’s not the gospel. That’s a plan of salvation, but it’s not the gospel, the good news. It’s merely a part of it.

    The gospel is Jesus is LORD. That’s good news because it is more than personal and individualistic. Jesus is LORD of all.

    The late Dallas Willard used to talk about how the “Gospels of Sin Management” presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind. This fosters “vampire Christians,” who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven.

    Jesus wants to be your Savior, but He also wants to be your LORD. It’s not about ego, but wisdom. He knows best. The sooner we can make Him the center of our universe, the sooner He will make our paths straight. He doesn’t promise it will be an easy path, but it will be filled with peace, joy, contentment, and hope because He knows best.

    Back to Joseph!

    Potiphar loves Joseph and puts him in charge of his household (39:4). Everything is great…until Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph. When he chooses to honor God rather than give in to her temptation, she accuses Joseph of sexual harassment.

    When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

    But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. (Genesis 39:19-21)

    Remember, Joseph is in prison because he followed the LORD. Is it any surprise that the LORD was with him? It’s terrific to read how Joseph received kindness and favor from the prison warden…but he’s still in prison! An innocent man has been punished! How can Joseph be used by God? He’s stuck in prison!

    Have you ever felt that way? How can God use you since you’re stuck…in this job, this marriage, with this family, with these weaknesses, with these limitations?

    I heard a great story last week about an actress who moved to Los Angeles. She was certain God led her there to be salt and light in a dark industry. After multiple auditions without a job, she questioned her pastor about what God was doing. She obeyed God and moved to L.A. but was finding no success. Her pastor said perhaps she was sent to California to minister to the struggling actors and actresses that are not finding success. Her own failures would be more connective to starving artists than her own successes.

    I can only imagine the conversations Joseph had with God in prison, asking why, questioning his own calling, and feeling even further from the fulfillment of his dreams. Joseph may not have even realized it but he was moving God closer and closer to the center of his universe. Mike Breen says, “Godʼs Kingdom needs the “door” of a humble heart. God wants to work in Josephʼs submitted heart—and ours.

    Dreams, Genesis 40

    In the next chapter we see the butler, the baker,…but not the candlestick maker! The butler and baker had offended the king of Egypt, their master, and joined Joseph in prison. They have dreams, Joseph interprets them, the dreams come true, the baker is hung, and the cupbearer (or butler) is set free.

    The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. (Genesis 40:23)

    I wonder if Joseph was fully surrounded to God or just grateful to be given gifts to interpret dreams. Genesis 41 begins by telling us Joseph was in prison for two more years after the butler is released.

    Pharaoh has two dreams, no one could interpret them, and the cupbearer remembers Joseph.

    So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.

    Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

    “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Genesis 41:14-16)

    “I cannot do it.” Joseph has finally moved from the center of his universe to the edge, and God has taken residence on the throne of Josephʼs heart. Joseph is fully surrendered, allowing God to express His Kingdom rule in his life and to fulfill his earliest calling, to rule and to govern.

    The rest of the story is quite remarkable as Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man and eventually Joseph’s brothers literally bow down to him as they are desperate for food years later. The dreams God gave Joseph are eventually fulfilled.

    So What?

    Because of God’s covenant, we have a relationship with Him. Our identity is children of the King.

    As children of the King, we have a responsibility to represent the King to our world. We are HIs ambassadors, His agents on planet earth.

    God’s doesn’t just pick everyone to do His bidding, to be a Kingdom operative. God is looking for humble hearts that seek Him, that put Him at the center of their lives. The Bible says, “Youʼre the child of God and He wants to fashion your heart, so that you
    can be His representative. But that means a journey into humility and submission to Me.” Like Joseph, we must move from being the center of our world to inviting Jesus to be the center.

    Jesus’ first words to His disciples were, “Follow Me.” His final words were, “Go and make disciples.” Invitation and challenge. Covenant and Kingdom. Relationship and responsibility.

    It all begins with making our Savior our LORD.


    Ideas for this series taken from book of the same title by Mike Breen and

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

    Praise (God!) John 12:37-50, 28 April 2013

    Big Idea: Do you seek the praise of God or the praise of people?


    We’re in the middle of a series studying the Gospel of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His best friends, John.

    Before we begin, I want to remind you of the context. We are going back to before the crucifixion where Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead.

    Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (37-38)

    Centuries earlier the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah’s signs would not lead everyone to faith. Contrary to what some people say, experiencing a miracle or even Jesus in the flesh does not guarantee faith.

    Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1)

    For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn — and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. (39-40)

    It’s possible for a man to wake up and say he won’t see by keeping their eyes closed.

    Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:10)

    Faith is a gift from God, yet not all believe. Moses did multiple miracles in front of Pharaoh, a man who refused to believe. John told us in his first chapter (1:11) that Jesus’ own people would not receive Him. How is this possible? God’s sovereignty (in control) and human responsibility are held together consistently throughout John’s Gospel.

    Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. (42-43)

    This is one of the most sobering passages in the Bible. People believed in Jesus. In fact, there were leaders that believed in Jesus. They knew He was the real deal. Whether it was His teaching or miracles or lifestyle, they believed in Him.


    “But” must be one of the most tragic words in the English language.

    “I like you and all but…”
    “They were going to, but…”
    “I’d love to come…but…”
    “They were winning the game, but…”

    What kept these leaders from following Jesus?

    They were afraid of the Pharisees. They feared expulsion from the Synagogue (see 9:22). They were afraid of offending others, though they didn’t fear offending Jesus.

    How do we offend Jesus? It all goes back to the first two commandments, you know, God’s top ten list.

    You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:3-6)

    What is your god? For these leaders, it was the praise of men rather than the praise of God. Your god is what you seek.

    I doubt you worship a statue. You probably don’t say prayers to the stars. It’s very tempting to please men—or even please yourself.

    In David Platt’s book
    Radical, he notes

    I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. We were settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.

    Whether it is approval addiction or self-absorption, the essence of faith is total surrender. As we said last week, we need to empty ourselves before the Holy Spirit can fill us. We need to die to ourselves in order for Christ to live in us.

    “…they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” The Greek word here for “praise” could also mean “glory” or “reputation” or honor.” Doesn’t that describe us? I know that describes me. I don’t want to look like a fool. I want to keep my reputation intact. I don’t want to offend anyone or be controversial so I blend in. I make those around me comfortable…in order for me to be comfortable.

    Jesus does not want secret followers. In fact, secret follower is likely an oxymoron! Jesus says choose: light or darkness, Jesus or the world/yourself, open-handed surrender or control

    Don’t forget this promise from last week:

    Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:26)

    That’s how we get the praise of God…by serving and following Jesus.

    Personal faith does not mean it is to remain private. We must go public and let our words and actions show others Jesus…and the Father.

    Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (44-46)

    Jesus cried out. There’s great emotion there. He is passionate about His relationship to the Father. He is the light.

    “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (47-50)

    It’s not enough to hear the Word. We must do what it says (Matthew 7:24-27; James 2:14-26)

    The passage ends with a note about Jesus’ teaching, something we’ll pick up on next week in chapter thirteen.


    My prayer for Scio is that we would be radical. We would glorify God on Sunday…and the rest of the week. We would b.l.e.s.s. those around us, getting beyond the safe, comfortable and convenient to really caring about the lost, the broken, the abandoned, the bullied, the outcast. We would not consider our time together as the end of our spiritual formation but rather the beginning of a week pursuing Jesus in order to become His beautiful Bride.

    It begins with me. It begins with you.

    We are blessed to know the Truth and be able to share it with others. Some will accept while others will reject it. It was true 2000 years ago and it’s true today. If we refuse to believe, the light disappears, and our nation seems to get darker as an increasing number of people reject faith in Christ.

    Those who refuse to believe will experience judgment. Faith has eternal consequences.

    Fear…or faith? The praise of people…or the praise of people?

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

    It's Time! John 12:20-36, 21 April 2013

    Big Idea: Do people see Jesus in you?


    We’re in the middle of a series studying the Gospel of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His best friends, John.

    Before we begin, I want to remind you of the context. We are going back to before the crucifixion where Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead.

    Like a movie that has flashbacks, the next few weeks will seem like a step back in time, but keep in mind these events occur prior to Good Friday.

    Palm Sunday has passed, the crowds have welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, and now we begin at John 12:17...

    Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (12:17-19)

    John 12:20-36

    Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. (12:20-22)

    Why would Greeks worship at the Passover feast? They may have been what we would call attendees rather than members. Most likely they were God-fearers repelled by the nationalism and requirements of Judaism, such as circumcision (can you blame them?!). They were Gentiles that had obviously heard about Jesus. Everyone in the region had heard about Jesus!

    Notice their request:
    we would like to see Jesus.

    I believe this is the cry of the human heart today. People struggle with identity. They struggle with anthropology—what it means to be human. Jesus is the ultimate example for us. He is the perfect human. He is the wisest man to ever walk the planet, the smartest man in human history, and the fullest expression of what we were created to become.

    Jesus’ mission was not only to die and resurrect; it also included a demonstration of abundant life lived out for thirty three years.

    It’s easy to call Jesus our
    Savior. Anyone faintly aware of their sin is quick to receive grace and salvation, salvation only He offers (Acts 4:12). But Jesus is more than our Savior.

    He is also our
    Healer. We all like that, too. Who doesn’t like free health care?

    Jesus is our
    coming King. That means He is LORD. When you serve a lord, you give up all of your rights and freedoms to become essentially a slave to your master. This quickly gets uncomfortable, doesn’t it? The good news is that He is a benevolent King, a LORD who loves us and wants our very best. He’s not out to get us and use and abuse us, but He is still King and bids us to come and die…but we’ll get there in a moment.

    Jesus is also our
    sanctifier, meaning He wants us to be transformed and become more human—more like the ultimate Human, Jesus Himself. He wants us to be free from sin and be set apart for His purposes.

    Most USAmerican Christians show little evidence in their lives that they have been separated from sin.
    Most USAmerican Christians behave in ways that make it difficult to believe that they have been “set apart” for the service of God.

    The people want to see Jesus. Today, people want to see Jesus. They may not say it that way. They may say they want to experience meaning and purpose, they long for a better world, they know this world is broken, and they wonder whether anyone really cares.

    This past week in Boston we were reminded just how broken our world really is, and each day there are countless people searching ever more fervently for the Truth.

    They struggle with issues of value, identity, and worth. They need to see a life well-lived, and no one has lived a better life than Jesus.

    How can people see Jesus today? It has been said that you are the only Bible many will ever read. Jesus entrusted the Kingdom of God to us. We’re it!
    When people get connected to you, do they see Jesus?

    If people were looking for you, what would you say? Here I am?!

    Notice Jesus’ response...

    Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (12:23-26)

    These people are looking for Jesus and He talks about seeds, plants, life, death, servants, and masters. Huh? Verse 32 will help us understand, but notice these stories.

    These four verses are so powerful. Jesus says die…so you can live. What a paradox!

    Remember, we know what follows, but His disciples are largely clueless about His talk of death.

    The people are looking for Jesus, and He says if they want to see Him, they must know Him, and they know Him by dying, being planted, risking everything. In Romans 6, this picture of being planted is presented as dying with Christ in baptism and faith. Baptism is such a great image—we enter the water to die in a water grave and then we are resurrected to new life in Christ. Jesus wants everything. He wants you to die—not to harm you, but so that you may truly live.

    Many times previously Jesus has said that it was not yet time.
    Now is the time. These are the final days before His death. It’s no wonder He continues...

    “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (12:27-28a)

    Jesus’ time has finally arrived and He is…troubled! The Word that became flesh is troubled. Does that surprise you? His soul is horrified by what He is about to face.

    Notice it’s not about Him, though. It’s about glorifying the Father. Jesus sets the example for us yet again, seeking to glorify God the Father. He was willing to do whatever necessary to ensure God was glorified.

    Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. (12:28b-29)

    Can you imagine hearing an audible voice from heaven? This wasn’t the first time (e.g. Luke 3:22; 9:35).

    It’s fascinating how some thought it was thunder or an angel. What does the Word of God sound like to you?

    Jesus said, “Father, glorify Your Name” and the Father said He would be glorified by the Son.

    Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (12:30-33)

    The prince of this world, satan, looked like the victor on Good Friday, but it was actually his greatest defeat. Over the next few weeks as we look at the days before the cross, we’ll see satan repeatedly. If you’ve seen the film
    The Passion of the Christ, you surely remember the multiple times satan appears.

    Jesus was lifted up on the cross and also later during His ascension into heaven.

    Jesus will draw all men, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old. For God so loved the whole world that He gave His Son, Jesus.

    The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” (12:34)

    They were expecting Messiah to overthrow the government. They never imagined the government would overthrow and crucify Him.

    Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them. (12:35-36)

    Throughout His ministry, Jesus was in complete control, not because He was belligerent, but rather because He was following the Father’s will and timing.

    His message to the twelve is the same message to us: follow Me. Trust Me. Surrender to Me. Die so you may live.
    It’s time!

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

    Away In A Manger, Carols, 16 December 2012

    Away In A Manger

    Big Idea: Jesus is more than a little baby. He is LORD.

    Welcome to the third Sunday of Advent. Advent is about expectant waiting and preparation. For generations, the Israelites awaited the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We are awaiting His return. We are in between His first and second visits to our planet. We look back
    and forward.

    During these four weeks of preparation for Jesus’ birthday celebration, we’re looking at four classic Christmas Carols, their lyrics, and their biblical message. It is my hope and prayer that as you hear these songs, you’ll not only hum the melody, you’ll think about the timeless message. This week’s carol is
    Away In A Manger.


    It was first published in 1885 in Philadelphia. The texts was credited for many years to Martin Luther, but that seems to be only a fable. It is one of the most popular carols in Britain.


    Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head. The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay,
    The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
    The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.
    I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
    Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever, and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, And fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.


    Before we get started, I want to dispel two myths.

    First, the manger probably did not look most of our wood and straw mangers found in nativity sets. It most likely was a hard, stone trough.

    Second, it says “But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” He cried! Babies cry! Jesus cried! We know He even cried as an adult, but that’s another story.

    Two weeks ago we talked about “O Holy Night” and how because of Jesus the weary world rejoices.

    Last week we looked at “O Come All Ye Faithful” and said that although we are not always faithful, joyful, and triumphant, Jesus is and He allows us to experience faith, joy and victory.

    This message will be more challenging. It challenged me! The phrase is simply this…“The little Lord Jesus.” There’s more to Jesus than just a 8 lb. 6 oz sweet little baby Jesus Jesus is LORD. 740 times in the NT He is referred to as LORD.

    In Luke 2, the most detailed description of Jesus’ birthday, the shepherds were minding their own business in the fields and then an angel terrifies them!

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

    We don’t use that word “lord” much outside of church.

    What does it mean for Christ to be LORD?

    The Greek word, kyrios, means master or lord, as in a master of property or slaves. It means supreme in authority, controller.

    How does that sound? Jesus as master and you as slave?

    Controller is a challenging word because we all want to be in control.

    Jesus is LORD. How do we make Him LORD in our life? We don’t. God made Him LORD long ago. We surrender to what already is. We surrender to the One who is in control.

    I believe there are three types of people in this world.

    The first are what I call the
    unsurrendered. These are the people that have no illusions about Jesus as LORD. To them He’s a swear word, a myth, or a good teacher. They don’t pretend to follow Jesus. They live their lives for themselves or some other lord. While this group is apparently growing rapidly in the west, it creates exciting opportunities for us to share how and why Jesus has become LORD to so many, especially those in 2nd and 3rd world nations where the Gospel is spreading like wildfire.

    The second type of person is the partially-surrendered life. This is where the majority of USAmerican Christians live. Casual or cultural Christians. Christian atheists believe in God but act as if He does not exist. Jesus said to the partially-surrendered that surrounded Him

    “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

    Jesus is not an accessory that you add to your life. A LORD seizes control of everything!

    Jesus is not a part-time LORD and He doesn’t want part-time followers.

    We come under His Lordship.

    If there’s one question I want you to think about, it’s this...

    What have I not surrendered to the LORD?

    What area am I still trying to control?

    Kids? Future? A relationship? Money?

    For me, money has been one of my greatest struggles—not so much giving, but worrying about having enough. It’s a trust thing for me, which is silly because God has been faithful to our family so many times that
    Great Is Thy Faithfulness has been our family hymn.

    The more I follow Jesus, the more I have learned to trust Him.

    In a similar way, I daily need to surrender my family to the LORD. It’s easy for them to become idols in my life, obsessed with their health and well-being rather than trusting that God loves them even more than I love them.

    God can be trusted with our money, our children, our future, ...everything.

    That’s what lords do...they are in control of everything! That leads to the
    the fully-surrendered life. This is a person who is a slave to Jesus, an indentured servant.

    Slavery is obvious not a popular subject in our culture. Race-based slavery is one of the great embarrassments of our nation’s history. Tragically, there are more slaves today than at any time in human history, many of them children.

    Not all slavery is evil, however.
    Not all masters are cruel and self-serving.

    In the book of Exodus, God made a provision for a freed servant to stay with his master.

    “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

    “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life. (Exodus 21:2-6)

    An indentured servant is one who chooses to serve their master.

    This is the image of a person fully-surrendered to Jesus. They have made Him Lord. They give up their rights and entrust their time, talent, treasures, comfort, convenience, hopes, dreams,...everything to their Master. Their lives are not their own but rather belong to the LORD.

    Paul’s letter to the people of Rome begins...

    Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — (Romans 1:1)

    The third word of his letter is servant, doulos in Greek. It means “servant, slave.”

    “In the NT a person owned as a possession for various lengths of times (Hebrew slaves no more than seven years, Gentile slaves without time limit), of lower social status than free persons or masters; slaves could earn or purchase their freedom.”

    Later in the letter Paul writes...

    For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:7-8)

    Are you living? If we live, it is to honor…the LORD.

    On my wedding day I was given a ring. I keep my wedding ring on. I belong to my wife.

    I gave her a ring on our wedding day. How much did the ring cost her? Nothing. But when she received the gift, it cost her everything. She belongs to me. She’s mine. I belong to her. I’m hers. We belong to each other.

    When Jesus died for you, He offered a free gift to you. Salvation costs Jesus everything and you nothing, but when you say yes, you surrender the rights of your life. Your life is no longer your own.

    He is the supremely ruling, reigning King of the universe!!!

    We don’t surrender in the areas of life where we don’t know Him. He is all-powerful, holy, good, trustworthy, …

    If I truly believe God is my Provider and I am a steward, giving is how I surrender.

    We need some reverent fear of God. He’s not your co-pilot! Get in the trunk!

    Do you really know Him?

    Jesus warned His followers...

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

    These are sobering words.

    What will He say to you?

    We surrender to the lordship of Christ.

    Jesus is no longer a little baby. He is the King of kings and the LORD of lords. Is He your King? Is He your Lord...of everything in your life?

    Credits: Series theme and various ideas from Craig Groeschel,

    You can listen to the podcast here.
    You can view a music video of
    Away In A Manger from here.

    So Loved, John 3:1-21, 10 June 2012

    Big Idea: God gave. Seekers can find.

    John 3:1-21

    But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:24-25)

    Jesus knew what was in each person. He knows what is in you and me. He is God.

    He also knew what was in the heart of a guy named Nicodemus.

    Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. (John 3:1)

    He was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, likely a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court. He was an outstanding man. Today he would wear an Italian suit, drive a sports car, be a member at the country club, and command attention in every room he enters.

    He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (3:2)

    Nick at night! He could not “see” spiritually. He came with a mask. “We” know. They recognized the miracles.

    Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (3:3)

    Jesus interrupts him and starts talking about the kingdom of God. Born again or born from above.

    “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (3:4)

    This is a great question! Jesus wasn’t talking about a physical birth, though.

    Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

    Water could refer to baptism or the womb but likely the sanctifying, cleaning power of the Word of God (Ezek. 36:25-27) through the Holy Spirit taking the Scripture and using it. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God through the man of God.

    Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (3:6)

    Our old, sinful nature does not change. It will die with our body.

    The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7)

    The spiritual birth is necessary. We are given a new nature because our old nature is put to death (baptism).

    You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (3:7-8)

    We still know little about the wind. We can’t stop tornados. We can barely predict them! We can recognize when it is blowing, though, despite the fact that we can’t see the wind. “You” must be born again is plural. The same Greek word for wind means Spirit. We can’t see or control the Holy Spirit, but we can experience His power and presence and observe His movement.

    “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. (3:9)

    Nick is no longer a Pharisee or a ruler but a spiritual seeker. The masks are gone. He gets real with Jesus, and that’s what we must do, too. I believe the greatest reason that people in the west reject God is they refuse to humble themselves and admit that they need God. We can’t impress God. We can’t put on a show for Him. We can only come on our knees in respectful reverence, awe, wonder, and desperation.

    “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? (3:10)

    Don’t miss Jesus’ sarcasm here!

    Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. (3:11-13)

    See Daniel 7:13-14

    I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (John 16:28)

    Jesus is the only One who can speak of heaven because He’s the only One who has been there. Prior to Jesus, the righteous dead went to Abraham’s bosom.

    Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (3:14-15)

    The serpent represented the sin of the people. Christ was made sin for us on the cross. See Numbers 21:4-9. Jesus repeats that message in the most famous verse in the Bible:

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

    The son of man must be lifted up. We must be born again. The love of God cannot save a sinner. It is by grace that we are saved. He loved so He gave. To believe in Christ means to trust Him for your sins. Believe is more than just mental agreement. Demons “believe” in Jesus, but they don’t trust Him for their sins and soul. They have not surrendered their lives to follow Him.

    For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (3:17)

    Jesus did not come to judge the first time. He came as the Savior. Next time He will come as the judge.

    Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (3:18)

    The name of Jesus, the Savior of the world. The Pharisees believed that the Messiah would come as a Savior and judge. They were correct, but those two roles would occur during two different occasions.

    This week I heard a great quote from Billy Graham:

    God judges. The Holy Spirit convicts. We are to love.

    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (3:19)

    Nothing that grows in the dark would be welcome in your home!

    Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (3:20-21)

    Credits: Some ideas taken from J. Vernon McGee.
    You can listen to the podcast here.

    The Radical Experiment, 6 November 2011

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

    Opening Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Pray for the entire world

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

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

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

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

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

  • Read through the entire Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sacrifice our money for a specific purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Give our time in another context

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

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

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

    That means you!

    Commit our lives to a multiplying community

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

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

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

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

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

    Do you see it?

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

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

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

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

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

  • Concluding Video

  • You can listen to the podcast here.
  • Radical Abandonment, 30 October 2011

  • Big Idea: Jesus abandoned everything in heaven for you and for me. He invites us to radically abandon everything on earth for Him.

  • Mark 10:17-31

  • If there is one key verse for the series, it is Luke 14:33 where Jesus says,

  • …any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

  • For those of you looking for a loophole in the Greek, the word for everything—pas—means “all, everything, whole, always.”

  • Jesus demands radical abandonment—of everything: our time, talent, treasures, relationships, future, education, work, dreams, spouse, children, family…He wants it all!

  • Jesus’ teachings are filled with paradox. They defy conventional wisdom and political correctness. They are the polar opposite of the American Dream that says our highest aim in life should be the pursuit of happiness.

  • Look what Jesus said a few chapters earlier in Luke 9:24

  • For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

  • A few chapters later, He repeats a similar thought

  • Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:33)

  • He wants all or nothing.

  • Today’s text is found in Mark’s biography of Jesus.

  • As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

  • “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good — except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

  • “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” (10:17-20)
  • Maybe you could say this. You’ve been a good boy or girl. You have lived a good life, never killed anyone, played by the rules, avoided speeding tickets, been a devoted Michigan football fan…!

  • Where did Jesus get this list of commandments? From the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Let’s review them together:

  • 1. No other Gods (Exodus 20:3)
  • 2. No idols (4-6)
  • 3. Do not misuse the name of the LORD (7)
  • 4. Remember the Sabbath (8-11)
  • 5. Honor your father and mother (12)
  • 6. Do not murder (13)
  • 7. Do not commit adultery (14)
  • 8. Do not steal (15)
  • 9. Do not lie (16)
  • 10. Do not covet (17)

  • How did you do? Most people that I’ve met would say they are pretty good—after all, they haven’t killed anyone! To be honest, I struggle daily with the first two. I find myself putting my desires above God’s, longing for health and wealth and happiness and doing just about anything to be safe and comfortable despite the needs around me. I look at my favorite idol every time I stand in front of a mirror. But that’s just me!

  • This man was a good man. He obeyed all of the commandments. He probably could’ve been a pastor or elder himself. He had arrived…almost.

  • Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (10:21)

  • Was that in God’s top ten list? I missed that!

  • At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (10:22)

  • Wait! Let’s go back to those first two commandments.

  • 1. No other Gods (Exodus 20:3)
  • 2. No idols (4-6)

  • Do you see what happened?

  • Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (10:23)

  • You are rich. Across the country at this very moment there are people occupying Wall Street and other public venues with one slogan. What is it? We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.

  • Here’s the truth, though: I’m in the 1%. Many of you are, too. No, we’re not among the richest 1% of USAmericans, but we are among the richest 1% on the planet. If you earn $48,000 or more, you are in the top 1% of the richest people in the world. $32,000 places you in the top 6 %, and if you only earned $12,000 you’re still in the top 13%!

  • The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (10:24-25)

  • Why? It’s all about need. It’s about dependence upon God.

  • The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

  • Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (10:26-27)

  • Many of us know this famous verse—all things are possible with God. Look at the context, though. It’s about salvation. Jesus is saying that we can be saved despite our wealth and idols.

  • I recently heard an interview with a highly educated Muslim man talking about his Islamic faith. When asked if he had any certainty about his eternal destination, he replied that God only knows. He is spending his entire life trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor in hopes that he will pass the test on judgment day and go to heaven rather than hell.

  • Maybe some of you are like that. You’ve been trying hard to be good so God will love you. You have more in common, perhaps, than Muslims. The religion of Christianity has said we must behave a certain way in order to believe and ultimately belong, but Jesus came to abolish religion. He came to offer grace, allow the unworthy to know God, invite sinners to heaven, and provide joy and peace and love to the unlovable.

  • The amazing thing about Jesus is grace, unmerited favor.

  • This past week I had a dear friend call me. We hadn’t talked in many months—maybe even years—but he was concerned that because he had turned away from God in the past, he was destined to hell despite his desire to follow Jesus again. I had him read the end of Romans 8 to remind him that nothing can separate us from the love of God—not even the terrible things we do.

  • That’s grace! If we want God, He will always welcome us with open arms as did the Father in the prodigal son. That’s the good news! That’s the Gospel! It’s not about what we do, but what was done on the cross for us. None of us can be saved—not rich or poor—apart from Jesus and the cross.

  • “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.” - Dallas Willard

  • Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

  • “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. (10:28-30)

  • What does this say about those who radically follow Jesus? It will be worth it.

  • Jesus then concludes with one of His most famous paradoxical statements:

  • But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (10:31)

  • Play now and pay later or pay now and play later. The choice is yours. You can cling to this world, or invest in the world to come.

  • We use a lot of words to describe God. Jesus. Teacher. Savior. King. Son. Prince of Peace. Father. Perhaps the most challenging is LORD. He gives us commands, not considerations or suggestions. He’s not out to get us, though. He knows that if we lose ourselves, we will find. If we give, we will receive. If we surrender, we will discover freedom. If we die, we will truly live.

  • The Apostle Paul, arguably the most important figure in the New Testament after Jesus, said

  • I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

  • Paul is either insane or he is saying that by dying, he can experience resurrection and new life. When we die to ourselves, God can begin to recreate us. As the prophet Ezekiel wrote,

  • I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26

  • You’ve got to let go, though.

  • Never Alone

  • This is a challenging message. This has been a challenging series. I’ve been reminded each week that I need to die, and just when I feel like every part of me has been surrendered, I discover another place where I’m holding on. Death can be scary, especially when everyone else around us is living their normal lives.

  • This is where the Church becomes so vital. We are a family. We are a community. We need one another. We need to encourage one another. We need to mentor and disciple one another. We need to spur one another on toward our own death and Christ’s life.

  • Perhaps the most graphic description of this is found in the second chapter of the book of Acts.

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

  • Do you see it?

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

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

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

  • We are not alone. He is not only with us, He has given us one another to encourage each other. This world is not our home. We are just visiting this planet...together.

  • Radical abandonment is about giving up anything that gets between us and God’s leadership. Do you trust Him…with everything? 

  • Jesus abandoned everything in heaven for you and for me. He invites us to radically abandon everything on earth for Him.

  • You can listen to the podcast here.

    A Radical Command, 18 September 2011

  • Big Idea: Jesus demands everything—and He can be trusted.

  • The Bible

  • When I was a young boy, we used to sing this song called The B-I-B-L-E. The lyrics were, “The B-I-B-L-E/Yes that’s the book for me/I stand alone on the Word of God/The B-I-B-L-E.”

  • One of the core values of our tribe, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, states

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

  • Do you believe this book? It’s so much more than just pages of stories or wisdom. It is God’s precious Word. It is our guide for life. As some have said, it is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.

  • For thousands of years people have been studying the Bible, seeking to know, understand and apply it. As Joshua was preparing to lead the people of Israel following Moses’ death, God told him

  • Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)

  • Did you catch that? It is a command with a promise. I don’t know about you but I don’t like random rules. I want to know why! God promised Joshua prosperity and success if he read and obeyed the written Word.

  • So again I ask do you believe this book? Maybe you’re still not sure it’s trustworthy. After all, it’s thousands of years old and surely it’s been changed over time, right? The science of textual criticism evaluates manuscripts based upon their written date, the time span from the earliest copies, and the number of copies. No ancient book is even close to the Bible in terms of its preservation and authenticity.

  • The Bible is true. It can be trusted. There is nothing like it on the planet. Don’t take my word for it, though. Billions of people for generations have not only studied and obeyed it, many have given their lives to preserve and share it.

  • The All-Important Question is do we believe this Book?

  • If the answer is yes, the next several weeks will be challenging. See if you don’t believe it, you can ignore what it says and comfortably enjoy our weekly family reunions together. Belief, however, demands action.

  • A few weeks ago I told the story of the Great Blondin - the man who invented the high wire act. He crossed Niagara Falls again and again; blindfolded, carrying a stove, in chains, and on a bicycle. Just as he was about to begin yet another crossing— this time pushing a wheelbarrow—he turned to the crowd and shouted, "Who trusts that I can cross pushing this wheelbarrow?" Every hand in the crowd went up. Blondin pointed at one man:

  • "Do you trust that I can do it?" he asked.
  • "Yes, I trust you can." said the man.
  • "Are you certain that you trust me?" said Blondin.
  • "Yes" said the man.
  • "Absolute trust? Absolutely certain?"
  • "Yes, absolute trust, with absolute certainty."
  • "Thank you," said Blondin, "please get into the wheelbarrow."

  • True faith requires action.

  • Do we believe this book? Do we believe what it says about the church? The cross? Mission? Decisions? The lost? The poor?

  • Our passage for this morning is very short. Jesus said to His followers

  • In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)

  • You can look at the original Greek, examine the context, and do whatever you want to twist it, but you can’t really change the message: following Jesus requires giving up everything. No buts. No excuses.

  • That’s radical! He demands total devotion.

  • My wife demands total devotion. An occasional affair is unacceptable! Should God demand any less?

  • David Platt notes

  • Even his simple call in Matthew 4 to his disciples—“Follow me”—contained radical implications for their lives. Jesus was calling them to abandon their comforts, all that was familiar to them and natural for them. He was calling them to abandon their careers. They were reorienting their entire life’s work around discipleship to Jesus. Their plans and dreams were now being swallowed up in his. Jesus was calling them to abandon their possessions. “Drop your nets and your trades as successful fishermen,” he was saying in effect. Jesus was calling them to abandon their family and their friends. When James and John left their father, we see Jesus’ words in Luke 14 coming alive. Ultimately, Jesus was calling them to abandon themselves. They were leaving certainty for uncertainty, safety for danger, self-preservation for self-denunciation.

  • When we gather in our comfortable church building to worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.

  • Video

  • Is it all about you? When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die…so he can truly live.

  • Francis Chan illustrated this idea of comfortable Christianity like this. He said, If I ask my daughter to do something (“Rach, clean your room”), I am not satisfied if she come back later and says that she has memorized what I said, or that she got her friends together to discuss what my request means or what it would look like if she cleaned her room, or that she made a poster or needlepoint with my command on it.” Commands are to be obeyed.

  • John Stumbo of the Alliance writes,

  • Have you wondered why the Church in places like China and Vietnam has grown rapidly and vibrantly, even in the face of terrible persecution, while many churches in America struggle just to maintain the status quo? In China and Vietnam believers have few resources and even fewer trained pastors. Most congregations have no facilities, and members often are persecuted by hostile government officials. There are not even enough Bibles for every Christian. Yet the Church moves triumphantly forward.

  • In the West it is a different story. We do not lack resources. There are millions of dollars available to build spacious buildings and to fund evangelism and discipleship training. Bible colleges and seminaries train thousands of students every year, and many congregations have two or more well- trained pastors. There is no dearth of Christian literature, and every Christian home contains not one, but many, Bibles.

  • I am firmly convinced that the reason for our spiritual impotence in the midst of material affluence is simple. We have been discipled toward knowledge, believing that a mature Christian is one who knows a lot about Christ and the Bible. Christians in places like China and Vietnam have been discipled toward obedience. In their paradigm, a mature Christian is one who obeys all that he or she has learned of God’s Word and of Christ.

  • Are you pursuing the American Dream of Jesus’ dream for your life?

  • What do you have?
  • Do you really have it?
  • Does it have you?

  • Pearls

  • This is a very heavy message. Who wants to give up everything? It all begins with our understanding of God. He is not out to ruin your life, but instead He wants you to experience the most abundant, exciting, joy-filled life imaginable. Really.

  • The cheerful girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them: a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box. "Oh please, Mommy. Can I have them? Please, Mommy, please?" Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box and then looked back into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl's upturned face.

  • "A dollar ninety-five. That's almost $2.00. If you really want them, I'll think of some extra chores for you and in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday's only a week away and you might get another crisp dollar bill from Grandma."

  • As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank and counted out 17 pennies. After dinner, she did more than her share of chores and she went to the neighbor and asked Mrs. James if she could pick dandelions for ten cents. On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill and at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.

  • Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up and grown up. She wore them everywhere - Sunday School, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was when she went swimming or had a bubble bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.

  • Jenny had a very loving daddy and every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing and come upstairs to read her a story. One night when he finished the story, he asked Jenny, "Do you love me?"

  • "Oh yes, Daddy. You know that I love you."

  • "Then give me your pearls." "Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess - the white horse from my collection. The one with the pink tail. Remember, Daddy? The one you gave me. She's my favorite."

  • "That's okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night."

  • And he brushed her cheek with a kiss. About a week later, after the story time, Jenny's daddy asked again, "Do you love me?"

  • "Daddy, you know I love you."

  • "Then give me your pearls." "Oh Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my baby doll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She is so beautiful and you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper."

  • "That's okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Daddy loves you." And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.

  • A few nights later when her daddy came in, Jenny was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed Indian-style. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling and one silent tear rolled down her cheek. "What is it, Jenny? What's the matter?"

  • Jenny didn't say anything but lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a little quiver, she finally said, "Here, Daddy. It's for you."

  • With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny's kind daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jenny. He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her genuine treasure.

  • Jenny's father is like our heavenly Father. He also is waiting for us to give up our dime store stuff and seek Him first ... so He can fling open the windows of Heaven and pour us out such a blessing that we will not have room enough to hold it.

  • Next week we’ll look at the context of this radical verse and see that Jesus literally wants us to give up everything.

  • Treasures
  • Time
  • Talents
  • Future
  • Relationships

  • What do you most fear right now? What can’t you surrender? There’s a good chance that it is an idol in your life. God wants it, not because He wants to rob you of your joy, but so that He can BE your joy.

  • Take My Life

  • The word “consecrate” means to solemnly dedicate to God or sanctify.

  • Frances Havergal, at age 36, received a book called, "All for Jesus", which stresses the importance of making Christ Lord over every dimension of one's life. On Advent Sunday, Dec. 2, 1873, she saw the blessedness of consecration and made a full surrender of her all to Christ. Not long after she was visiting ten people in a house, of which she writes: "I went for a little visit of five days (to Areley House.) There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted, but not rejoicing Christians. He gave me the prayer, 'Lord, give me all in this house!' And He did just that. Before I left the house every one had got a blessing. The last night of my visit after I had retired, the governess asked me to go to the two daughters. They were crying; then and there both of them trusted and rejoiced; it was nearly midnight. I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration; and these little couplets formed themselves, and chimed in my heart one after another till they finished wit h'Ever, Only ALL for Thee!'" (Havergal Manuscripts)

  • Chris Tomlin said of the hymn “Take My Life,” “This hymn sums up what we all want to say to God: Take everything about me…take all I am and all I own—it’s yours Lord. Louie and I penned these simple four lines of refrain to amplify what we felt the writer was wanting to communicate, and to give us the chance to step back from the numerous lines of the song and voice our all to the Father.”

  • As we sing, I want to challenge you with two things. First, I invite you to lift your open hands in front of you, offering everything to God. Second, pour out your heart to God. Tell Him your hopes and dreams. He’s not out to get you. He’s out to bless you, but when we are clinging to what we have, there’s no way He can give us anything. When we surrender, we lose, but we also gain. Like baptism last week, we must die in order to be resurrected. He gives and takes away.

  • Conclusion

  • This week I challenge you to ask God to reveal to you whatever is holding you back from being completely surrendered to Jesus, a fully-devoted disciple.

  • I also challenge you this week to get into the Word. Read through the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

  • Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)

  • We all want to prosper and be successful. Let’s get into the Word and discover all that He has for us.
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