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.
  • No reserve. No retreat. No regrets. 31 December 2015

    No reserve. No retreat. No regrets.
    New Year's Eve

    Big Idea: Live your life with no reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.


    Happy New Year’s Eve! In a few hours 2015 will be history. How was it? In a few moments you’ll have a chance to answer that question. While much attention is placed upon the new year (they don’t call it new year’s eve for nothing!), this is a wonderful hour in which to reflect, to look back, to celebrate the goodness of the LORD.

    For some of you, 2015 was a difficult year. For others, a great year. For most, a mix.

    The past 365 days have been filled with births and deaths, wins and losses, successes and failures. There’s nothing you can do with the past besides reflect and learn.

    The psalmist wrote

    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

    I have a number of pastor friends who prefer doing funerals over weddings. I’m not among them, but I do appreciate their perspective. Funerals are one of the few times people pause to reflect upon life.

    Today is another such time. It has been said we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year. What did you do in 2015? How is your life different than it was 365 days ago?

    I must confess my life hardly resembles it from a year ago, though I can hardly take any credit for it. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be living in Toledo, Ohio…and loving it!

    What did you do in 2015? How is your life different than 365 days ago? How is the world different than it was 365 days ago because of you?

    That might be a grandiose question, but if you’re like me you want to change the world. You want to make a difference. Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.

    This week I was praying with some dear senior saints that gather here each Tuesday morning. After hearing some very kind words from them, I said as the face of First Alliance I get far more recognition than I deserve. A football player can only score a touchdown if others do the unsung work of blocking. In the same way, they do vital work on their knees, praying for you, me, our church, and our city. Their work is done in secret, but it is changing the world.

    You can change the world with your prayers. You can change the world with your encouragement, your smile, your time, your simple gift, your story, …your love.

    As you reflect on 2015, what do you see?

    One of the most powerful series of sermons I ever heard was at a Campus Crusade for Christ Christmas Conference in college. It must’ve been five years ago! OK, it was nearly 30 years ago…and I remember it like yesterday. There were three talks:

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no reserve, no holding back. Passion. The word itself stems from Jesus’ wholehearted act on the cross, giving everything. 110%.

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no retreat, no turning back. The armor of God described in Ephesians 6 contains a belt, breastplate, boots, shield, helmet, and sword…but nothing to cover the back. There’s no running away, no backing down, no retreat.

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no regrets. I’ve made countless mistakes, but a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes…and the mistakes of others.

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    Did you give your absolute best in 2015? If so, fantastic! Do it again in 2016. If not, no worries. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Tomorrow will be a new year, a new beginning, yet there are no guarantees. Tomorrow itself is not a guarantee for all of us. We all have an expiration date, and none of us knows what it is. William’s was only 25 years.

    This week I read about an acquaintance of mine who was riding his bicycle to a Christmas Eve service near Ann Arbor. On the way, he was hit by a car and died. It’s still surreal to think he’s no longer with us.

    It is critical that we pause, we reflect, we consider how life is sacred, precious, and fragile. Every day is a gift from God.

    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

    My prayer for myself and all of us is that on December 31, 2016 we’ll gather again and say, “To God be the glory for the great things He has done in and through our lives.” But it requires action on our part. We were not created as puppets He manipulates. We make choices every day that affect our lives and the lives of others.

    I’m not going to challenge you tonight to make any New Year’s resolutions.

    Well, except for reading the Bible with us. If you haven’t heard about the One Story reading plan there are copies at the Information Center and links in our weekly
    FAC Focus e-newsletter.

    There was a famous religious leader named Saul. He was so passionate he was at least an accomplice in the martyrdom of many early Christians. His conversion to Christianity was miraculous, to say the least. After his name was changed to Paul, he wrote much of the New Testament of the Bible. Reflecting upon his sordid past, he wrote,

    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

    I encourage you to press on in 2016. Follow Jesus with your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbors. Live with intentionality.

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    Happy New Year!

    When You Are Exhausted, 29 November 2015

    When You Are Exhausted
    Series: Be Here Now
    Galatians 6:9-10

    Series Overview:
    Christmas is the celebration of “presence.”

    Big Idea: How do we remain fully present in the lives of others…and not wear ourselves out in the process?


    This past Wednesday I received a mass e-mail from writer Brett Kelly. I could hardly believe my eyes as the title was “Be Present.” He said,

    “About a week ago, I was sitting at my usual bar, having a drink with a friend. As we sat there, I found my mind wandering to all sorts of different things: work I needed to do, my kids, etc. Important things, sure, but things unrelated to the current activity. I was anxious about the thoughts that distracted me, even though I had decided, by agreeing to meet the friend I sat with, that I wasn’t going to do anything about them for awhile.

    So, I sat back, took a sip of my drink, and looked across the table at my friend and said to myself:

    Be here, now.

    Several years ago I found myself at a table with some friends talking to a best-selling author and pastor. I told him I was wrestling with a good definition of success, especially because I knew it was more than simply the number of people in the church I pastored or how many people read my blog. At first he said, “I don’t really think about success.” “Easy for you to say,” I thought, “since you’re leading one of the most innovative churches in the world, writing popular books, and speaking all around the world.”

    Then he said something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “If I had to define success, I would say to be fully present in the moment.”

    Now that the Christmas season has officially begun (for me it begins when I seen Santa in the Thanksgiving Day parade!) we are taking a break from our series on 1 Peter to celebrate Advent, literally the arrival.

    For hundreds of years the people of Israel waited for the arrival of the Messiah prophesied throughout the Old Testament.

    Hundreds of years! Can you imagine waiting hundreds of years for Jesus? Actually, yes! Today we find ourselves between the first and second arrivals of Jesus to our planet. We naturally think of Christmas as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it’s easy to forget the generations of people prior…and even those of us who await His return. This is an important time of year for giving gifts, singing songs, decorating, parties, and traditions but Advent is so much more. It is a time to simultaneously look back and look forward.

    Our Advent series is called “Be Here Now” and the theme of these four weeks is presence, not Christmas presents wrapped under a tree, but presence—“e-n-c-e.” Christmas is the celebration of presence, God’s presence with us and our presence with Him and others.

    If success is being fully present in the moment (let’s just use that definition for now), what is failure? Not being fully present!

    Before we continue, I must pause and confess. I’m not always fully present. I “try” to multitask, thinking I can talk on the phone, eat my lunch, and surf the Internet simultaneously. I can’t. Heather knows it!

    Parenthetically, I’ve been told a man’s brain is like a bird house. There’s room for one thing at a time. A woman’s brain, on the other hand, is like Swiss cheese! I’m not sure about that but I know I’m easily distracted (look, a squirrel!) and struggle to be fully present.

    How do you feel when someone you’re with is not fully present…with you? You may feel frustrated, angry, or even invisible and lonely.

    Jesus created The Golden Rule, stating simply

    Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

    Which begs the question…

    What prevents us from being fully present?

    What doesn’t?!

    • - Phone calls
    • - Texts
    • - TV
    • - ADD
    • - Other people
    • - Noise
    • - Boredom
    • - Stress

    Perhaps the greatest obstacle to being fully present with another person is busyness. When did it become a badge of honor to be busy?

    Being busy is not the definition of success.
    Being busy is not the same as being productive.
    Being busy is not a spiritual gift.
    Being busy is not a sign of spiritual maturity.


    One of the reasons we’re not fully present with one another—and/or with God—is exhaustion.

    When you are fatigued, it’s difficult to focus. It’s hard to listen attentively to others. It’s a challenge to engage a person. You may have to fight the urge to literally fall asleep (I hope that’s not you right now!!!).

    Are you tired? Why? It may be you’re the parent of a young child who still confuses daytime and nighttime. I remember wondering if those sleepless nights would ever end. They do. When they become teenagers. Then you can’t wake them up!

    Your fatigue may be due to health concerns you cannot control.

    But it could be due to busyness. Busyness may be the cause of your health concerns!

    Friends, we’re all given 24 hours a day. We must be good stewards of our time as we are to be good stewards of the financial resources we’ve been given by God. Time and money are both gifts, gifts to be used wisely. Often it’s easier to manage our checkbook than our calendar.

    Busyness compromises my focus. I used to have a terrible habit of being a few minutes late to appointments.

    If busyness is not a good thing, we need to assess our priorities and say no to things. It has been said the good is the enemy of the best. You can’t do everything! Author Jim Collins is famous for not only creating a to-do list but also a not-to-do list. If you add something to your schedule, what will you delete?

    Doing Good

    I’ve been your pastor for a little over a month now and I must say I’m still overwhelmed by God’s goodness, the incredible opportunities before us, and the rich heritage at First Alliance of serving. A week ago Heather and I joined seven other teams to distribute Thanksgiving meals to the less fortunate in Toledo. Many of you serve not only within these walls but into the community with Cherry Street Mission, the Toledo Resuce Mission, Water for Ishmael, and the many other local—and global—ministries. I’m humbled to be surrounded by so many faithful servants, especially visible during the holidays.

    Toledo is a city with many needs, and it’s inspiring to see so many of you meeting those needs, day in and day out. But being aware of the needs of the world around us can wear us out. We can become “
    weary in doing good.” Paul wrote to the church in Galatia…

    Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10)

    Great, but how do we keep from becoming disengaged and still stay balanced? How do we remain
    fully present in the lives of others and not wear ourselves out in the process?

    Make sure you on your oxygen mask! If you’ve ever flown on a commercial airplane, you know they always alert you to the oxygen masks that will be available if there is a loss in cabin pressure, and when they do their pre-flight safety instructions they always say, “If you’re traveling with small children, put on your oxygen mask first.” It’s counter-intuitive, but if you’re not safe, you’ll be useless in helping others stay safe.

    Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have written a helpful book whose title says it all…

    When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself

    If we’re exhausted or sick—or dead!—we can’t be fully present for others.

    If we’re discouraged and inpatient and give up, we’ll miss the harvest God has planned for us.

    Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

    Don’t become weary and overwhelmed. Easier said than done! Just stop it!

    Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10)

    “Opportunity” in the Greek is the word
    kairos meaning “time.” You may be familiar with the word chronos, another Greek words for time. Chronos is a specific moment of time, like 11:03 AM or Thursday at noon. Kairos refers to a season or less specific moment, like last month or—likely in this context—our limited lives. As we have time, do good. As we are alive in these bodies for 70 or 80 (or longer!) years, do good.

    So how do we avoid burnout and exhaustion…or disengaging entirely from the needs of the world? What did Jesus do? He understood His limits. He didn’t try to address every possible need. Does that sound cruel? Does that sound fair?

    It’s what He did! He fasted for forty days before choosing the twelve disciples…and then had three favorites with whom He spent most of His time—Peter, James and John.

    He focused on individuals rather than the masses. To quote Andy Stanley, Jesus did for one what He wanted to do for everyone. He was deep with a few rather than shallow with many. Lasting change takes time. It takes attention.

    You can’t be fully present with all 7 billion people on the planet.

    Jesus was fully present…with them and with others. He looked people in the eye. He said no to good opportunities in order to say yes to the best. He also chose rest.


    Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.

    Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a day off.

    It seems to me Someone said once a week we need a day off, a Sabbath. In God’s Top Ten the Sabbath is listed above murder and adultery. I’m just sayin’!

    Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy

    Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

    For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

    Is anyone convicted like I am right now?

    As I fight to establish weekly rhythms in our new life in Ohio I’m working to make sure I’m faithful in rest. As I get older, I’m more conscious of my need for rest in order to be fully present. It’s difficult to be engaged with someone when you can’t stop yawning! Of course when I’m tired my mind is prone to wander even if my body looks involved in the conversation.

    Honestly, I like to be busy and productive. I love the feeling of accomplishment, whether it’s finally finishing an endless home improvement project, writing a paper for a doctorate class, completing a jog around the neighborhood, or running errands.

    But sometimes I need to rest. I need to slow down.

    Present with God

    One of the most challenging verses in the Bible just so happens to be hanging in our hallway near the bathrooms. Perhaps it’s a subtle message from God!

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

    Be still, and know that I am God. Notice there’s even a comma! It doesn’t say be still and know that I am God. It says be still…and know that I am God. You need a moment of stillness just to complete the sentence!

    Are you fully present with God?

    Again, I recognize for young parents and others it’s difficult to be still. You’re surrounded by noise! You’re exhausted. It’s worth the effort to be present with God—in prayer, in reading the Bible, in worship.

    The Starfish Story
    A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

    She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

    The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

    The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

    — Adapted from The Star Thrower
    by Loren C. Eiseley

    So What?

    Brothers and sisters, do good, but know your limits. Rest. Take care of yourself. Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. We are on a mission to make disciples. If Jesus could only handle a dozen—or three—He doesn’t expect us to change the world overnight. But if we all did for one or a few what we wish we could do for everyone, the world would be changed! We’d be changed, too!

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here. You can subscribe to the free FAC Focus e-newsletter here.

    Suffer Like Jesus, 27 September 2015

    Suffer Like Jesus
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 2:11-25

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

    Big Idea: Suffer like Jesus…God is watching.


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

    As we continue our series on 1 Peter, our text for today reminds us about
    time. Time is a fascinating dimension to life. We often struggle to be fully present in the moment, instead reminiscing about the past or dreaming about the future.

    Patience is related to the future. We want things now. Last Sunday we sang about waiting on the LORD, something I struggle to do, knowing that God’s timing is never late but rarely early. If only He would answer my prayers instantly like a genie in a lamp, yet Daddy knows best and can be trusted, even His timing. Perhaps in hindsight you’re glad God waited to answer a prayer.

    One of the most common expressions among children is,
    “It’s not fair!” Did I say children?! Adults say it all the time, too! The great theological Bill Gates said, “Life is not fair. Get used to it.” We live in a broken, sinful world where injustices are all around us. Often the best we can hope for is some sort of restitution or reconciliation through a judge or jury.

    But what if you knew justice would prevail? What if you could be certain all wrongs would be righted, all perpetrators would be punished, and all suffering would be rewarded?

    It all brings fairness and time into question. Our scripture today is full of encouragement from Peter to those suffering, reminding them their present suffering is not the end. There is more to their story. Judgment Day is coming, a day of reckoning, a day in which many will rejoice while others suffer the consequences of their unrighteousness.

    Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. (2:11)

    Last week we read Peter’s instruction to get rid of sin. Throughout every day we make decisions to follow the world or Jesus. These exiles—like us—are in the midst of a war between good and evil, between God and satan. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle. D.L. Moody once said, “I have more trouble with D.L. Moody than with any man I know.” Never confuse people as being the enemy. The real enemy is satan.

    We were sinners but we’ve become adopted children of God. We are strangers/sojourners/pilgrims, resident aliens with citizenship in heaven. That’s immensely important. Foreigners and exiles approach life differently than citizens. Peter’s friends were literally exiles; we are not.

    Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (2:12)

    Have you ever been punished for doing the right thing? Have you ever been despised by cheaters for being honest? Have you ever been mocked for studying by those who failed the test? Often our greatest critics are merely envious.

    I’ve seen this frequently with pastors. Thanks to the internet, everyone can have their own platform for sharing their opinion with the world. I’m truly sick and tired of hearing people trash pastors of large churches that are often doing more for the kingdom of God than their sorry whining will ever do. Sure, there are heretics that preach harmful things, but I’ve heard people attack some of the most respected people and I have to wonder if they’re just envious.

    Good deeds are a witness to the world. We need words and deeds in shining the light of Jesus into our dark world.

    Peter continues…

    Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. (2:13-15)

    This is a fascinating passage. It’s easy to think of our government but remember the context. Nero was coming to the throne in Rome as the new emperor. Life was hard for followers of Jesus. Peter’s not saying dishonor God, but he seems to be saying obey the law, submit to authority.

    Daniel and his friends disobeyed the law but did so in a way that honored the king and respected authority (Daniel 1). They held their convictions and glorified God in the process. In Acts 4-5, Peter and his colleagues refused to stop preaching as commanded, yet they showed respect to their leaders in the process.

    Note the last sentence. Again we see actions speak louder than words, in this case our good actions silencing—literally muzzle—fools.

    Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (2:16-17)

    We have freedom. We have liberty—far more than Peter’s audience—but we must not abuse our freedoms. We are free but we’re God’s servants. God’s slaves. When we call God LORD we are declaring ourselves to be under His authority. We are to use our freedom to help, serve, and bless others as Nehemiah did restoring the Jerusalem walls.

    He says to show “proper respect to everyone.” I wish more Christians would follow this simple instruction, especially during these political campaigns. How we submit to authority is a part of our witness to the world. Going 85 miles an hour on the expressway with a “Jesus Loves You” bumper sticker sends the wrong message.

    He reiterates the command to love the family of believers. Note the context of authority. One way we love one another is by submitting to the authority of godly leaders in the church.

    He says fear—or have awe for—God. Give honor to the emperor, the king, the president. The office is to be honored even if you disagree with their politics. No matter your dislike for a politician, they are created with dignity, value and worth in the image of God. Pray for them. The verbs literally mean to keep loving, keep fearing, keep honoring…constantly. This is no mere suggestion. The book of Romans says…

    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

    This all echoes Solomon’s wisdom:

    Fear the Lord and the king, my son…(Proverbs 24:21)

    I admit this can be tricky. Not every nation has a church and state separation. Facebook is abuzz with Christians supporting and opposing Kim Davis for her decisions as a county clerk in Kentucky. What do you do when the law and the Word of God are in conflict?

    Perhaps one word to consider is power. Jesus did not come to overthrow the government of His day, though many hoped He would. As He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the people shouted, “Hosanna!” which means “Save us now!” He will exercise His power when He returns, but He modeled for us a servant’s posture. Whenever I see pride or self-serving power exerted I get nervous in a hurry!

    Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (2:18-21)

    First century slavery was different than the horror of slavery in the USA up to our Civil War. It was generally a temporary condition that included possibly one-third of the population. Many chose to be slaves for a season in order to become full Roman citizens. Peter’s words regarding obedience as slaves may have been partially so they could be set free. Powerful masters had powerful slaves, so for some, it was a valuable position. Some slaves were doctors, teachers, and even sea-captains.

    It wasn’t necessary an easy life, however. Some slaves were both physically abused and made sexually available to their masters. Scott Bartchy writes,

    “Central features that distinguish 1st century slavery from that later practiced in the New World are the following: racial factors played no role; education was greatly encouraged (some slaves were better educated than their owners) and enhanced a slave’s value; many slaves carried out sensitive and highly responsible social functions; slaves could own property (including other slaves!); their religious and cultural traditions were the same as those of the freeborn; no laws prohibited public assembly of slaves; and (perhaps above all) the majority of urban and domestic slaves could legitimately anticipate being emancipated by the age of 30.”

    Submit. Not a popular word in our culture, or perhaps any. None of us truly understand the life of a slave. Some liken their boss to a slave master. No matter your job, our nation affords us all certain freedoms unimaginable to those in other places and/or other times in history. We can’t fully appreciate the weight of Peter’s words except to say do the right thing, even if you’re not rewarded for it…now. Someday you will receive your reward.

    Work as unto the LORD. Paul wrote to the church in Colossae…

    Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. (Colossians 3:22-25)

    Submit to the authority of your boss. When wronged, it’s human nature to want to fight, but we are to submit and let God fight. This doesn’t mean be a doormat or tolerate abuse, but it does mean remember God is watching.

    Jesus understands. Jesus suffered. Not only did He suffer for doing good, He did it to both set an example for us and to sacrifice for us. He died for you and for me. He served through suffering.

    “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (2:22)

    He lived a perfect life, yet He was executed, wrongfully accused. He suffered the ultimate suffering for doing good. He lived the cruciform life, shaped by the cross.

    When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,”
    but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (2:23-25)

    Peter quotes Isaiah 53. It’s such a paradox that we have been healed by His wounds, His suffering.

    Jesus’ life set an example for us.
    Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for us.
    Jesus is now our Shepherd and will return soon.

    So What?

    This passage is loaded with application possibilities. I say possibilities because the relationship between us and government can be tricky. Civil disobedience may be justified, but we must respect our leaders. Enduring a difficult job and serving wholeheartedly may be God’s desire and a great witness to others. Demonstrating kindness, generosity, humility, honesty, and loyalty when we don’t “feel” like it represents God well. We are to not only do the right thing, we are often to do the right things in the midst of suffering. A cruciform understanding of the Christian life—the way of self-denial and of suffering as demonstrated by Jesus—is a radical proclamation to our world.

    “The way of suffering is the divinely intended manner of bringing the greatest victory of God into the world.” - Scot McKnight

    There’s a famous poem that was written on the wall in Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta, a version of Dr. Kent Keith’s
    Paradoxical Commandments:

    People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

    If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

    If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
    If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
    What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
    If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
    The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
    Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
    In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

    Life is hard. Injustice happens. We suffer. But there’s more to the story. God is watching. He will right all wrongs someday. It’s gonna be worth it someday.

    “Life isn’t fair.” For the follower of Jesus, this is actually good news. You don’t want what you deserve! We all deserve eternal separation from God for our sins. It’s only grace that allows us forgiveness. Only the blood of Jesus can wash away our sins and make us white as snow. Only Christ’s broken body can mend our broken relationship with our heavenly Father. Praise God life isn’t fair!

    The world is watching us. So is the Good Shepherd. Hallelujah!

    In the end, it's going to be
    Worth It All.


    Some ideas from

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

    Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

    1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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