Vision Sunday, 5 March 2017

Vision Sunday
Matthew 28:18-20

Big Idea: God has an exciting mission for us to (continue to) pursue.

Those words, often called the Great Commission, are our mission. They are why we exist as a church. They are our mandate, our calling…make disciples.

My name is Kirk and about eighteen months ago I was invited to move to Toledo and serve as your lead pastor. It was a humbling opportunity. Heather and I continue to thank God for calling us here.

Several people have asked about our future, our vision. I dedicated my first year to listening—to you, our city, and most of all our Senior Pastor, Jesus. I came with no agenda. I came with little understanding of Toledo or First Alliance and its rich history.

I’m excited to say things are beginning to get clear. I’m starting to get the pulse of our church and neighborhood. I don’t have a 20-year strategic plan to share with you today or announcements of ten new initiatives, but after many discussions with our staff and elders, I believe things are slowly coming into focus and I want to share with you glimpses of our future.

Before we talk about First Alliance, I want to reflect upon our scripture text for today. To set the scene, we need to back up a bit. Matthew tells us about the resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of chapter 28. This, of course, is the great climax of Lent, arguably the greatest day in the history of the world.

By the way, I want to encourage all of you to join me in this season of Lent, the journey toward the Cross…and resurrection. It’s not just a Catholic thing! These forty days remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We still have some devotionals if you didn’t get one last week, available at the Information Center in the lobby. Next week we begin a Lent series called, “A Love That Never Dies” to help us prepare for Holy Week.

Matthew, one of four biographers of Jesus Christ, tells us the resurrection and then says…

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

These are Matthew’s final words in his gospel or “good news.” The mission—the commission—is simple:
make disciples. Great! What’s a disciple? A simple definition would be a student or apprentice of another person. The goal of a disciple is to become like their master. When Jesus says make disciples, he is telling his followers to invest in followers who will become Christ-like.

A disciple is not someone who just has the knowledge of the master.
A disciple is someone who acts like the master.

You may be a master chef and spend years showing me how to cook, but the test of my discipleship is not what’s in my head, but rather what I put on the dinner plate.

You may be a master plumber and spend years showing me how to fix a leaky faucet, but the test of my discipleship is not what I know about plumbing, it’s whether or not I know how to keep the floor dry!

Tragically, the focus of many churches has been attendance, getting people to go to a church service or small group. For some it is information, stuffing people with Bible knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t truly measure discipleship.

The measure of discipleship is how much you look and act like Jesus. He said, “Follow me.”

I have heard countless times people respect Jesus but they don’t like the church. That’s a discipleship issue, friends. If you are a Christian—or “little Christ”—your life should resemble Jesus. Obviously, none of us have arrived—we’re all imperfect sinners—but our goal, our example should be Jesus. If you need a more specific description of a disciple of Jesus, consider the fruit of the Spirit:

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)

How do you make disciples? First, be a disciple. Are you a disciple of Jesus? How does your life reflect the fruit of the Spirit?

It should be noted Jesus never commanded us to start churches, go on mission trips, engage in Bible studies, attend prayer meetings, or even listen to a sermon every Sunday. Again, none of those are bad, but they are not the goal. Our mission is to make disciples, people who look like Jesus, people who love God and others. Make disciples is the Great Commission. Jesus also gave the great commandments:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28)

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

Have you heard this before? You’ll hear it again, I promise, because at the end of the day, Jesus told us the entire Bible is summed up in two commandments:

Love God
Love your neighbor

And he has given us one mission

Make Disciples

Simple? Yes.
Easy? No.

The reality is, we can’t love God and our neighbor and make disciples on our own. We need the Holy Spirit. Thomas George spoke about the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago. If you weren’t here, you can download the message for free on iTunes or our smartphone app. In a sentence, he said we need to let go and let God, surrendering ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us in order for us to bear fruit.

So make disciples. But how? Actually, the command is go and make disciples. What does it mean to love God and love others? Let’s take a look at our church’s mission statement. It says

The mission – make disciples - fully devoted followers of Christ. We define discipleship at First Alliance as someone who is: Connecting to God (worship), others (growing in community), and the world (missions – here and around the world)

As our logo says, we’re about connecting to God, others, and the world.

Are you still with me?

The elders have been working on bringing more clarity to our mission. It’s biblical, but very broad. Any church could/should help people connect to God, others, and the world. I don’t have a revised mission statement for you—though we’ve been discussing one—but I want to suggest two details I cannot avoid:

1. Toledo

I know, this isn’t exactly rocket science, but Toledo is our “Jerusalem,” our home mission field. I’m sure there was a day when Toledo was filled with followers of Jesus, but like most any city in the west, it is becoming increasingly secular or non-Christian. We probably have more atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths in our city than ever before, to say nothing of lukewarm Christians.

If God called you to be a missionary in west Africa as he did last week’s guests Doug and Karen Conkle, you would live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus, right?

Most of you have been called by God to be missionaries in Toledo. This is our mission field. We need to live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus.

Let me briefly share a few reasons why I believe we need to focus on Toledo:

1. We’re here!
2. We’ve been here for 129 years
3. We chose to stay here when the old building burned down
4. Toledo has many needs we can address
5. We’ve been given some wonderful opportunities to pursue
6. We can be a part of the city’s growth and renaissance
7. God is on the move in Toledo, not only at First Alliance but in the dozens of churches who are praying, serving, and worshiping together

This morning I want to declare my personal commitment to this city. For as long as God has me here at First Alliance, I want to live, work, shop, and play in Toledo. Heather and I really have done better in Toledo and we’re excited about the future.

2. The Next Generation

No, I’m not talking about Star Trek. Actually, the next generation can be interpreted in a number of different ways—the next generation in US history (the Millennials) or the one that follows (GenZ), the next generation of members at First Alliance, the next generation of followers of Jesus…but it’s not me. It’s not many of you. Obviously we’re not going to go crazy, hang a disco ball from the ceiling, and sing Lady Gaga songs, but many of us have had our day. People served and sacrificed so we could encounter Jesus. We must make space for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. If you know Jesus, it’s critical to help the next generation know him. You saw some of them earlier waving ribbons. Others spoke last Sunday about their trip to the Avalanche youth retreat. They are our future…they are our present!

We’ve always been about the next generation. We were involved in starting Toledo Christian Schools. We have an After School Klub. We run an annual sports and arts camp. We have possibly the best children’s director in the state of Ohio (Sue Trumbull) who is leading one hundred volunteer workers!

Jesus told this great parable (story) in the 13
th chapter of Matthew. He said seed was scattered in soil. Some was eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky ground and died. Some was choked by thorns. Some fell on good soil and produced a great crop. Jesus explained the story by saying…

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:19-22)

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
(Matthew 13:23)

After being so impressed by my first year at sports and arts camp last summer, I told Sue we did a great job scattering seed for a week, but what about the next 51 weeks? We need to cultivate the seeds, making sure they receive sun, rain, and fertilizer, keeping away the thorns, rocks, and birds.

We are starting to do just that, through Toledo Urban Impact, the new van pickup each Sunday, new students from the neighborhood coming on Wednesday nights to girls club, boys club, and youth group, and our growing relationship with Rosa Parks Elementary School two miles away. We’re certainly not done, but we’re in the process of developing a birth to college pipeline of discipleship.

Our involvement at Rosa Parks began largely through an invitation from Dr. Durant, the TPS superintendent, to be present in the school with the students and staff—before, during, and after school! He is a God-fearing man who is unashamed of his faith and we accepted his invitation. I wrote him this past week to say I was thrilled to read his contract was extended three years. Rosa Parks Elementary is a huge part of our mission field, people we are called to love, serve, and bless.

Do you want to know my dream? It is to put Dan Rogers at Cherry Street Mission out of a job! Seriously! He would love that!

He would love to see homelessness end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to experience graduation, a career, and most of all Jesus Christ.

He would love to see poverty end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to develop a career.

He would love to see crime and teen pregnancy end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to encounter Jesus Christ.

We’re not giving up on adults, but something like 80% of Christians trust Christ before they turn 18. We can share the gospel with adults, but it’s a lot harder. We can rehabilitate the 55 year-old addict, but it’s a lot harder.

And do I need to tell you the kids of Toledo need hope? They need help? They need Jesus.

Last week Toledo’s 9
th teen was shot dead.

The current graduation rate for TPS is less than 65%.

Teen moms are not just 16 and 17. Some are 12 and 13 years old in junior high.

So What?

Toledo needs Jesus. Not religion. Not programs. Jesus.

The next generation needs Jesus.

Where is Jesus on earth? We are to be his hands and feet, loving and serving and inviting people to come and see the one who loves them, who died for them, who never shames or pressures or manipulates, but simply says, “Follow me.”

Discipleship is praying for our city and next generation.
Discipleship is serving our city and next generation.
Discipleship is loving our city and next generation.

Will you join me?

  • You can listen to messages at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • King Jesus, 13 November 2016

    King Jesus
    Romans 13:1-7

    Note: these are the original sermon notes. The actual sermon is quite different and available here.

    Big Idea

    We have elected a new president…but King Jesus is Lord!


    Good morning, church! My name is Kirk and I want to personally welcome you to First Alliance Church—not the building, but the family, the community of people in this room and beyond. We are a part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. One of the things I love about The Alliance is its diversity. Approximately ten percent of Alliance members live in the United States. About ninety percent of our family is scattered all over the globe.

    Speaking of the globe, our world was taken by surprise this past week. For a variety of reasons—largely due to the decreasing use of landline telephones for pollsters—most, if not all, of us woke up to surprising news on Wednesday morning. Some of you were concerned or even scared at the election results. Others were relieved or even celebrating.

    “For some people the savior has come, for others the sky is falling, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle.” So said someone after election day…in 2008.

    Regardless of your political persuasion, I have some encouraging news for you. No more campaign ads for four years! Actually, there is reason for great hope…and it has nothing to do with Washington or Columbus. God is on the move!

    Jesus Is LORD

    In Jesus’ day, religion was extremely popular. The Jews practiced their faith amongst the polytheistic Roman and Greek gods. Temples to these gods were common. Governmental leaders were even thrown in the mix, some treated as deity and others demanding such attention. It may sound odd to our ears, but a popular declaration was “Caesar is Lord.” To refuse to honor these gods was akin to sabotage. Some early Christians were blamed for famine, plagues, and earthquakes because they refused to worship the various gods.

    At age eighty-six, Polycarp, the second-century bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the apostle John, was brought to the Roman authorities and ordered to confess that Caesar is lord. By refusing, he was murdered, inspiring others to remain faithful.

    Just as “King of the Jews” was viewed by some as threatening to the establishment, so also “Jesus is Lord” was considered by many to be a revolutionary declaration. In fact, “Jesus is Lord” is the shortest credal affirmation found in the New Testament, a statement of faith for those regarding Jesus as fully God and fully man. Today it is the motto of the World Council of Churches.

    How did you feel on Wednesday morning when you heard the election results?

    If you felt anxiety or fear, King Jesus is Lord.
    If you felt joy and relief, King Jesus is Lord.

    The role of church and state has been debated for centuries. How are followers of Jesus supposed to relate to human leaders? Written in the midst of the Roman Empire, 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. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)

    Let’s take a moment and unpack this.

    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)

    Twice in one verse it says God has established governing authorities. He has established rule and order. He established positions of power such as kings, presidents, and judges. It was never His plan for humans to narcissistically run around and pursue their own agendas in anarchy. Everything God does is carefully designed. He is the Author of systems, whether it is the solar system or your digestive system. Even the most outspoken atheists admit the universe has an order to it, making life on this planet incredibly unique.

    Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. (Romans 13:2-3)

    Obey the law. Although there are exceptions—especially among our African-American brothers and sisters, tragically—you usually only need to fear authority if you do what is wrong. If you’re going the speed limit on I-75, you need not slam on the brakes if you see a police car hidden behind a bridge.

    By the way, if you routinely speed, you might want to take the fish off of your rear bumper! Christians are supposed to obey the law. Is speeding a sin? Yes. Is cheating on your taxes a sin? Yes. Obey the law and you won’t find yourself in jail.

    For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:4-5)

    There’s a lot in these two verses. First, the authorities are God’s servants—for our good. I know, I don’t like to drive under 70 on the expressway, either, but our authority thinks it’s for our good! And have you ever thought about our mayor, governor, or president as being God’s servants? That’s what it says!

    Throughout the Bible, leaders are responsible for their followers. This is true in the home, in the church, and in society. We all will stand before God someday and give an account of how we lived our lives, but leaders must also answer for the way they influenced others. So when you believe an authority figure is misguided, remember they will be judged for their behavior.

    This is not, of course, to say we should never break the law when doing so breaks God’s law. No single sermon could adequately address the nuances of such a response. Clearly Daniel was honored for praying to God against the decree of King Darius. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the image of gold established by King Nebuchadnezzar and are commended.

    Personally, I’ve been deeply impacted by movies such as
    Selma and The Butler which depict the non-violent civil disobedience of African Americans in their quest for equality and civil rights. It sickens me that such oppressive laws—to say nothing of slavery itself and our violence against Native Americans—ever existed in this land.

    Yet today it’s against the law to talk about Jesus in the streets—and even homes—of Russia. You can be arrested for possessing a Bible in North Korea. You can go to jail in many countries for praying in the name of Jesus. And while persecution of Christians may be on the rise in the west, very few of the 70 million plus martyrs have been in the United States.

    We must pray for our brothers and sisters in other nations.
    We must pray for our brothers and sisters in this nation, too.

    This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:6-7)

    I admit, that first sentence is difficult for me to swallow! We pay taxes because God’s servants give their full time to campaigning—I mean, governing! For all of the complaining we can do—and I do!—I’m grateful for men and women who protect us (police and firefighters, stand up). I appreciate our mayor and city council who must balance the budget and make policies to guard against hunger and violence. I’m glad roads are paved, our food and water are safe, and we have freedoms of speech and religion, among other things.

    When asked about paying the imperial tax to Caesar, Jesus said

    “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21b)

    Despite threats to move to Canada every four years, this is still a great place to live. Would anyone like to move to Iraq or Sudan?

    The Kingdom of God

    While the scriptures tell us to pay taxes and submit to authorities, our ultimate allegiance is not to a nation or to a flag, but to a King.

    In Greg
    Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, Boyd contrasts Caesar's kingdom with Jesus' Kingdom, the Kingdom of God/heaven. Caesar's kingdom is based on the 'power over' model, which uses force, coercion, and social pressure to ensure conformity. Jesus' Kingdom by contrast uses 'power under', which is based on the example of love and sacrifice.

    Jesus says "
    Whosoever will, let them come..." He does not demand, overpower, threaten, coerce, or manipulate. He doesn’t use guilt or shame. He doesn’t hate, scream, or disrespect. He simply displays and invites us to follow him.

    It’s important to realize, too, the Kingdom of God is not about individuals. It’s about community. We are a family. Peter said,

    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

    He continues

    Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

    Our lives are to glorify God.

    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. 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. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

    Respect everyone.
    Love one another.
    Fear and reverence God.
    Honor the emperor. The mayor. The governor. Yes, the president.

    Good News

    Brothers and sisters, when George Washington became our first president, King Jesus was Lord.

    When Abraham Lincoln led our nation, King Jesus was Lord.

    When JFK was elected, King Jesus was Lord.

    When Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were inaugurated, King Jesus was Lord.

    And when Donald Trump becomes president next year, King Jesus will still be Lord.

    Hope in Jesus

    The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do. The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory— for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone. (Psalms 33:13-22, NLT)

    I’m glad I have a USA passport,

    But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

    Paul wrote to Timothy…

    I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

    Prayer for city, state, and nation.

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