Trials

I Know that My Redeemer Lives, 9 April 2023

I Know that My Redeemer Lives
Handel's
Messiah
Job 19:25-27; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

Series Big Idea:
Handel’s Messiah may be the greatest work of music ever created, bringing praise and glory to the Creator.
 

Big Idea:
The resurrection is at the heart of our faith, a wonderful miracle with countless effects.
 
Welcome to Resurrection Sunday! Welcome to Easter! This is the greatest day of the year and begins what should be a season of great joy and a celebration of life. The life of Jesus. Abundant life. Eternal life.
 
This past Advent, we began a sermon series examining the songs and lyrics of Handel’s Messiah. The first part of the magnificent work of music speaks of the Incarnation, the events of Christmastime. We will complete our study over the next four Sundays incorporating the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Messiah and glimpses of the future.
 
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
 
 
The book of Job may seem like an odd place to go for our Easter text. It might be the oldest book in the library we call the Bible. It’s the story of a righteous man whose faith is tested by a variety of tragedies and pain, from physical suffering to the loss of his children. In the midst of recorded dialogue with God…
 
Then Job replied:
 
“How long will you torment me and crush me with words? Ten times now you have reproached me; shamelessly you attack me. (Job 19:1-2)
 
Have you ever felt like God is against you? Have you ever felt crushed by the storms of life? One of the most important messages from the book of Job is the difference between testing and punishment.
Sometimes our suffering is the result of sin…ours or that of others. For example, if you fail to pay your taxes and end up in prison, don’t blame God. Pay your taxes (which are due next week!).
 
Sometimes our suffering is the result of strengthening…a testing of our faith.
 
Jesus’ half brother, James, wrote,
 
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3, NIV)
 
Athletes understand this well. They endure great pain in practice so they can finish well in the race or game. There is a testing that takes place, pushing sometimes beyond what is even thought possible. The old expression “no pain, no gain” often applies to an intentional workout.
 
Perhaps the most common spiritual question people ask is, “Why does God allow suffering?” It’s a valid question, one I think every human has considered. Why did God allow that hurricane to destroy, those children to die, that saint to develop cancer, that family to get hit by the drunk driver’s car, …
 
One of my dearest friends and mentors, our District Superintendent Rev. Thomas George, says, “Don’t ask ‘why,’ but ask, ‘What are you up to, LORD?’”
 
We all understand suffering, whether it’s the result of sin or strengthening. Perhaps when written, nobody understood suffering like Job. In a short period of time, he experienced financial loss (1:14-15), the loss of his children (1:18-19), physical anguish (2:7-8), loneliness (19:13-19), loss of his reputation (12:4), and even his wife was challenging his faith (2:9). Returning to Job chapter 19…
 
He has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness. (Job 19:8)
 
He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head. (Job 19:9)
 
He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree. (Job 19:10)
 
His anger burns against me; he counts me among his enemies. (Job 19:11)
 
Job is honest about his suffering and how he feels about God’s testing. There’s more…
 
My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family. (Job 19:17)
 
Even the little boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me. (Job 19:18)
 
All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me. (Job 19:19)
 
I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth. (Job 19:20)
 
“Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me. (Job 19:21)
 
Why do you pursue me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh? (Job 19:22)
 
Have you ever felt like that?
 
Then a few verses later after expressing all of his anguish, he declares,
 
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. (Job 19:25)
 
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:26-27)
 
I know that my redeemer lives.
 
Redeemer is one of those church, biblical words you rarely hear in our culture, but it’s incredible.
 
To redeem is to exchange. When I was a kid, I remember collecting cereal box tops and redeemed them for prizes in the mail. More recently, I have redeemed gift cards, entered redemption codes…one definition of “redeem” is to turn in and receive something in exchange.
 
Another meaning of redeem is to pay off, like a debt or promissory note. A few years ago I had a friend who had clothes at the dry cleaner’s, but he didn’t have twelve dollars to get them. I told him I would pay the debt—the bill—and he was able to retrieve his items.
 
Is there anyone perfect here? You’ve never told a white lie, cheated, lusted, coveted, driven over the speed limit…!!! We’ve all sinned, and according to God we must be penalized. That’s only fair, right? Justice means restitution must be made for evil, making good for damage, loss, or injury. A simple example would be paying a parking ticket or a speeding ticket.
 
Imagine you received a ticket from God for every sin you committed, every bad deed, every failure to love well, every evil thought. That would be an expensive ticket, right?! How would you feel about paying it?
 
Now imagine God comes along and says, “I’ll pay it.” How would that make you feel?
 
That’s redemption. That’s a redeemer. That’s grace…unmerited favor.
 
Job wrote centuries before Jesus walked the earth. While we can view his words as somewhat prophetic, he had no knowledge of the Messiah’s death and resurrection. He was not only on the other side of Easter, Job was on the other side of Christmas! But even in his agony, he had faith to believe the God would eventually intervene, that he would be vindicated, that whether in life or death, he would see God.
 
I know that my redeemer lives.
 
Job wrote those words hundreds of years before the first arrival of the redeemer, Jesus the Messiah, to our world.
 
At First Alliance, we’re passionate about Jesus…because Jesus is passionate about us! He know none of our good works could ever be good enough to pay for our sins. God doesn’t grade on a curve. A perfect God demands perfection, and only Jesus lived a perfect life. Then he died…willingly, purposefully, to offer payment, redemption for those who follow him. This is the reason Good Friday is good…for us.
 
But if Jesus remained dead, there would be no reason for faith. We would have no hope. Death would win.
 
But he is risen! He is risen indeed!
 
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. (1 Corinthians 15:20, NLT)
 
Job’s words, “I know that my redeemer lives,” were prophetic. They were a vision of the resurrection.
 
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. (Job 19:25)
 
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:26-27)
 
Someday we’re all going to die. It might be today. It might be decades from now, but the odds of your death are…one hundred percent! What happens after we die is worth considering.
 
So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, NLT)
 
Death entered the world when Adam and Eve sinned. But because Jesus was raised from the dead, so also his followers will be given new life…eternal life.
 
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)
 
You and I can have eternal life because Jesus is alive. Do you know that the Redeemer lives?
Is Jesus your redeemer?
 
The resurrection is at the heart of our faith, a wonderful miracle with countless effects. The Christian faith rises and falls with it. If Jesus is dead, we have no hope. If Jesus is not your redeemer, your savior, your LORD, you have no hope.
 
Paul wrote to the church in Rome,
 
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
 
He didn’t deny the present, the pain, the sufferings, but put them into perspective…an eternal perspective. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a trial that feels like death, like Good Friday. As author Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” If you know Jesus, there is always hope. Jesus knows suffering. Jesus knows pain and death. But
 
He is risen. He is risen indeed!

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

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

Temptation, 17 October 2021

Temptation
Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 1:13-18

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half-brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Today we’re back in the book of James, arguably the most practical book in the Bible. In between Global Missions Sundays and Advent, we’re going to continue going verse-by-verse through this short but powerful book. As a refresher, James is believed to have been written by Jesus’ half-brother who went from a skeptic to one of the leaders of the early Church. Dr. Tony Evans says, “James is the in-your-face, no -holds-barred apostle. He says in essence, ‘If you are going to be a Christian, be a real one.’”

I couldn’t agree more. The reputation of Christians in our current culture is…tragic! Instead of being known for faith, hope, and love we seem to have a reputation for politics, ignorance, and arrogance. We need real Christians, men, women and children who speak the truth in love, who are strong and courageous, who lead rather than follow, and whose hearts are set on the LORD Jesus Christ. It’s not about how much you know. The Pharisees were among the most knowledgeable people of their day, yet they missed the forest through the trees. Not only did they not look like Jesus, they had him killed!

Are you a Christian, a
real Christian? The short book of James is a great litmus test.

We looked at the first twelve verses of the book several months ago and James’ writings about trials. Trials are right up there with death and taxes as certainties in life. We all experience them, yet we are to consider them “pure joy” because they test our faith, producing perseverance and maturity. Verse 12 says,

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

We all want to be blessed. I usually sign my e-mails, “Blessings, Kirk.” It’s not one of those automatic signatures, but something I manually type each time. I truly want to bless others. I want you to be blessed. I want God to bless you…not only when you sneeze!

We often think of blessings as a new car, a promotion at work, or an attractive mate, but blessed or “happy” as some translations say is about our ability to experience, enjoy, and extend God’s goodness. It’s not about what happens around us as much as what happens internally, our ability to experience joy and growth.

There’s a big difference between trials and temptations, though they come from the same Greek word, peirazo. God allows trials to strengthen us. Athletes often compete in “time trials” which are races designed to test their abilities. In doing so, the runners are challenged and strengthened.

Temptation comes from satan who tries to cause us to fail. God’s testing and satan’s tempting can occur in the same event, but
God does not tempt anyone, though He allows trials.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (James 1:13)

I think that’s clear. God does not tempt anyone, nor is He tempted by evil…though Jesus was tempted while on earth before his death and resurrection. Notice the progression that occurs:

but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

Satan tempts through desire which leads to sin and death.

Satan cannot make you sin, but he can tempt you. He hates you and wants to destroy you…or perhaps wants you to destroy you! Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Do you see the contrast?

Family, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. We have a very real enemy. He knows your weaknesses. He knows how to appeal to your desires, leading you into sin and death. He’s very good…but God is greater!

We’ve all heard countless stories of leaders—inside and outside of the church—who have had moral failures. I doubt any of them ever thought, “Someday I want to have an affair and destroy my marriage, family, and career.” It all began with a desire and rationalization which led to sin and ultimately death…the death of their integrity, reputation, and like all sin, separation from fellowship with God.

I must add God forgives.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Hallelujah! But we may still live with the consequences of our sin. All sin leads to death, whether it’s the death of relationships, trust, or in some cases literal physical death.

What can we do to avoid death? Don’t sin.
What can we do to avoid sin? Avoid desire and temptation.
How do we do that?
Be alert!

Peter wrote,

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Where are you vulnerable? We all have different desires and weaknesses. Some of you struggle with alcohol, others porn, still others food. You may battle pride and self-righteousness (that’s been one of my vices since childhood). Fear is a seductive sin when the most common command in the Bible is, “Fear not.” You know the old saying, “If you play with fire you’ll get burned.” Where are you vulnerable? The enemy knows!

Most of us are tempted in the areas of
identity (which we discussed last month), acceptance, significance, and security. Jesus was tempted by satan in each in Matthew chapter four…yet never sinned. It’s important to note temptation is not a sin—only when we give in to the temptation. One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

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)

It’s easy to think Jesus doesn’t understand pain or trials or testing or temptation…but he surely does! He was able to resist temptation because he knew his enemy, his focus was on the will of the Father, and he knew where and when he was vulnerable.

When are you vulnerable? One of my favorite acronyms, HALT, describes the four times we are especially likely to sin:

Hungry
Angry
Lonely
Tired

We need to be alert, especially when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I have learned to be extra alert to temptation when one or more of these describe my condition. Often more than one is present.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. This is not about trying harder. It’s not about striving to be perfect. It’s recognizing all sin leads to death, the enemy is tricky, we need to be alert, and we need to call upon the LORD for help in times of trouble. I’m grateful for Paul’s words:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

You can make excuses and rationalize sin all day long, but the truth is you are not an uncontrollable animal. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit living inside you.

My friend and coach, Bruce Terpstra, notes in his book Three Passions of the Soul,

´╗┐The power of temptation is that it has appeal to your soul. Jesus was tempted in every way just like us, and yet was able not to sin (Heb 4:15). He was able to throw off the temptation because there was nothing in him that was attracted to sin. What attracts us to sin? Our souls are sick. They have been corrupted. But there is hope because we are not under the power of sin any longer. We are not bound. Sin is not our destiny. Christ has rescued us and set us free. We are free indeed.

Last week at staff meeting we were discussing a definition of a disciple. A disciple of Jesus is, quite simply, someone who looks and acts like Jesus, someone filled with the Holy 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)

The Holy Spirit gives self-control. Ask God for it!
We need to pray!

I realize sin is a struggle for all of us, myself include. As I’ve often said, I’m a recovering Pharisee…among other things. Sanctification—becoming like Jesus—is a lifelong process. There are successes and failures along the way. Staying alert helps. Prayer helps.

In addition, journeying with others help.
We need to do life together. We have fifteen Life Groups to help you. Celebrate Recovery gathers each Wednesday at 7 PM to help you with hurts, habits, and hang ups, which is all of us!

I know this is politically incorrect, but not only is it not all about you, you can’t do it alone. We were not created to be independent individuals. We were made for interdependent community. We all have blind spots and weaknesses which others can reveal and help us avoid. As we’ll see later in James, we are to

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

We need to confess our sins to each other.
We need to pray for each other.
We need to speak the truth in love to one another.
We need to love and encourage one another.

If you don’t have people in your life doing that, it’s no wonder you struggle with temptation and sin. I urge you to get in a Life Group. Serve on one of our ministry teams. Get connected…not because we need you to join anything, but because we need one another.

I want to say again that
God may test, but He never tempts. In fact, Pope Francis recently made a slight change to the Lord’s Prayer for Catholics to underscore this point. We commonly say, “Lead us not into temptation,” but the Catholic Church now says, “Do not let us fall into temptation.” I like that, because God never tempts. He does test, guide and protect.

James chapter one continues,

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 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 1:16-17)

God may test, but never tempts. He only gives good gifts.

God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

The enemy wants you to believe God is bad, that He hates you, that He is out to get you, that He could never love you. That’s a lie!

God only gives good gifts and every good and perfect gift is from God.
When you are tempted—not if—focus on the goodness of God and His character. He is the Father of lights. He never changes. He always shines. He is truth. He is sovereign and in control. He is love.

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18)

He made us His children so we can be a kind of firstfruits of His creation.

There’s a big difference between trials and temptations.

God does not tempt anyone, though He allows trials.

Satan tempts through desire which leads to sin and death.

We need to be alert, especially when we are H
ungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

We need to pray. We need to do life together.

Finally,
God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift. You are so valuable to Him, a child of the Most High God, His first fruits, the very best. You are a treasure.

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

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

Better Wise Up, 18 July 2021

Better Wise Up
Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 1:1-12

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: Wisdom is one of God’s greatest gifts, available for the asking.

If you could have anything in the world, what would you wish for? It sounds like something out of a Disney movie, but it really happened. The first book of Kings says,

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

This is King David’s son Solomon. How would you respond?

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. (1 Kings 3:6)

OK, Solomon, answer the question!

“Now, LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. (1 Kings 3:7)

We’re still waiting!

Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. (1 Kings 3:8)

He finally answers the question!

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9)

Solomon asks for a discerning heart, a heart of understanding. Some would call this—in a word—wisdom. I can think of no greater answer, especially from a leader responsible for making countless decisions that affect many lives. Oh that our leaders today would make such a request of the Lord! It’s obvious that Solomon made an excellent choice.The text says so!

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. (1 Kings 3:10)

So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. (1 Kings 3:11-12)

Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:13-14)

Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. (1 Kings 3:15a)

And what a dream it was!

Today we’re continuing our series on the book of James: Faith Works. Our topic today is wisdom…and you better wise up!

Two weeks ago Jason Horton tackled the first four verses of the book of James. This is arguably the most practical book in the Bible, penned by Jesus’ half-brother. To review, the book begins:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings. (James 1:1)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

If you missed Jason’s sermon, please go to our app, website, YouTube channel, or Vimeo page. It was excellent. The subject of trials forms the context of what follows.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It’s a promise. It’s not directed at a particular person, but rather “any of you” among the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.

The original Greek word for wisdom is
sophia. I had a boss once named Sophia. She was…pretty wise, I suppose! It’s not just that God grants wisdom, but that he gives it generously, bountifully, liberally. That’s His nature, especially with His children. He is a good, good Father.

This is especially true in the midst of trials when we often lack wisdom, those moments in which we are out of control. If you’ve ever asked God, “Why?” you know what I mean. Our District Superintendent, Thomas George, has encouraged me to change, “Why?” to “What are You up to, LORD?” “Help me see what You see.” “I need Your perspective and wisdom, Father.” Trials are for God's glory and our growth.

James is saying
ask God for wisdom and it will be given to you. Period. Well, almost period! There’s a dreaded “but” which follows, though it’s not all that dreaded, actually.

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8)

To obtain wisdom, we need faith or, actually, commitment to God. James isn’t talk about someone who is uncertain God will answer their request or a person struggling with faith. Instead, it’s the person who is double-minded, a person who is not truly committed to God. They want to be successful in this world and want God to bless them now while also hoping to go to heaven when they die. They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

A close equivalent to this double-minded person is found in Psalm 12.

Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts. (Psalm 12:1-2)

Hypocrisy is nothing new! Does it describe you? Again this isn’t someone who is truly seeking God and asking for faith. It’s a reference to Sunday-only Christians who use God rather than worship Him. God will grant wisdom to those truly committed to Him who ask. Don’t ask for wisdom if you’re not prepared to act on it.

Knowledge used to be valuable, but you can find just about anything on Google or YouTube. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the right application of knowledge. Who needs wisdom? I certainly do. This past year and a half has demanded more wisdom from leaders than perhaps any time in our lifetime. Should we close? Should we open? Should we encourage masks? Should we mandate masks? Should we get vaccinated? Should we require the staff to get vaccinated? Should we use the drinking fountains?

When people ask how they can pray for me, my most common response is, “Wisdom.” I need God’s wisdom. Not conventional wisdom. Not politically-correct responses. Not tickle-the-ears advise. I desperate need God’s wisdom…in my professional and personal life.

It’s really hard following Jesus in our culture. There is a constant temptation to live like everybody else, despite the fact that everybody else seems to be so confused, so fickle, so selfish, and so unreliable.

Recently Bible scholar N.T. Wright was on the Catalyst Podcast and offered an outstanding explanation of our current society, Listen…

It seems to me we are in a very confused culture with a highly moralistic culture of one sort that our world—the western world—has sort of invented new moralisms to take the place of the old ones, but the trouble with the new moralisms is that there is never any redemption. If you’re caught out saying accidentally something which somebody else says was racist or crypto-Nazi or whatever it is then that’s it, you’re out, you’re cancelled, you’re in social hell, even atheist hell if you like. There’s no way back, there’s no chance for repentance or forgiveness and so on. That’s a very cruel culture.

People used to object to Christians banging on about sin but the point of banging on about sin was to say there’s a way back to God from the darkness of sin as the old hymn says it and to say we’re all sinners was actually a positive doctrine because the answer is we’ve got a diagnosis for the problem and what’s more we have a solution, we have a remedy, God has provided the remedy, whereas in the present social and culture climate everyone is nervous about tripping up over some hidden “thou shalt not” in the culture whether it’s about gender rights of one sort or another or issues to do with race and so on and the rules keep on changing and as the rules change, when you’re my age, it’s very hard to keep up with them. It reminds me of that Roman emperor

Who made new rules and printed them out or stuck them out very small and had them stuck on high walls where nobody could read them and then would punish people for not obeying these rules and sometimes our contemporary culture feels like that and we have to argue for the importance of genuine morality, yes, but what we have at the moment is a sort of pseudo-morality of this victim culture where if somebody feels upset by something somebody else has quite innocently said then they can blame the person who’s done it and once you blame them there is no way back, they are non-persons or they’re damned or whatever, so how we respond to that as Christians is very different from the kind of stuff that most of us grew up with which was assuming that most people around us were sort of crypto-Pelagians thinking they could behave themselves and, therefore, go to heaven when they die. That’s not what people are thinking out there on the street now and we have to get used to articulating the message of Jesus in a very, very different context.

I know that’s a lot, but I believe it’s a lot of wisdom. I love how Wright is able to wisely assess our cancel culture and contrast it so poignantly with the Kingdom of God, an alternative way of life filled with love, hope, forgiveness, and redemption.

I confess sometimes I get caught up in the issues of our day, filled with fear and uncertainty rather than wisely seeking the Truth in God and His Word. Although our nation may be one exception in the last half of the twentieth century, most societies throughout history have not Christian foundations. The world has always acted like the world and will always act like the world. We are called—as citizens of the Kingdom of God—to live differently, to be filled with love rather than fear, to exercise grace not revenge, to seek after those who make us uncomfortable when we’d rather play video games or watch movies.

I can’t say this enough: I need wisdom. You need wisdom. Following Jesus in our day requires supernatural wisdom, and the good news is it is promised to us…if we ask and believe.

Would you commit to praying for me? I need wisdom. Our staff and elders need wisdom, especially during these next several weeks as we prepare for our fall kickoff on August 29. Next week we’ll begin what may be the most important sermon series I’ve ever preached for First Alliance Church. We’re going to present our six core values, the result of literally years of prayer, research, and discussion. God has answered our cries for wisdom. He has given us a compelling mission, an exciting vision, and a fresh strategy to reach our city and world as we more or less relaunch First Alliance this fall. As excited as I am about our future, I don’t want to take a single step forward without God’s direction, God’s protection, unity, and passion—my four prayers for FAC. As our society considers a post-COVID world in the future, we’ve been working behind-the-scenes to be optimally ready for whatever opportunities God provides for us. It is my prayer that our most fruitful days are ahead, that our baptistry would get worn out, that God would raise up men and women to serve Him here and around the world.

Perhaps my greatest fear is that I get in the way of what God wants to do, which is why I pray for and ask for your prayers for wisdom. Since it’s promised, we can pray with confidence and eager expectation. I better wise up. You better wise up!

There are four more verses I want to look at before we conclude today that relate to wisdom.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. (James 1:9)

Does that even make sense? It does in the upside-down Kingdom of God where the first shall be last and where saving your life means losing it for Christ’s sake. A few chapters later, James will say,

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)

The world says you need a platform. Get famous on Tik Tok. Make a career out of YouTube movies. Grab as much money, sex, and power as you can. It’s all about you!

God says, “Surrender to me and I will lift you up.”

Some of you find yourselves in humble circumstances. Several in our church family are homeless, jobless, spouse-less, or even penniless. Take pride in your high position. Humble yourselves before the Lord. He sees you. He knows you. He loves you. Your story’s not over. Seek help. You are a masterpiece in need of restoration…like me and the rest of us. God’s doing beautiful work through Celebrate Recovery here on Wednesdays at 7 PM. Do life together with others in a Life Group. We have several new groups launching this fall and some meeting now.

But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. (James 1:10-11)

There’s a weather event in the Middle East called a sirocco. It is a very devastating hot wind that blows from the southern desert into Palestine, destroying flowers and plants. What an image!

Money is not the root of all kinds of evil. The love of money is. James reminds the rich—which is most of us compared to people around the world—it will all pass away someday. You can’t take it with you.

It reminds me of the man who was granted one wish—like Solomon—and he asked to see the next day’s newspaper so he could see the sports section and bet on the horse race. It was a great plan to get rich…until he noticed his name in the obituaries!

Rich or poor, young or old, black or white, wolverine or buckeye (!), …

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

James speaks often of trials because he knows they make us grow, they humble us, they bring us to our knees, and they develop our character. As he said at the beginning of the book,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Erwin McManus recently said,

I’ve always wondered why the Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Why do we want to fear God?

Whatever you fear has mastery of your life.

Whatever you are afraid of, that’s your master.

If you only fear God, then only God is your master.

Every other fear will use that fear to hold you captive.

But when you fear God, He destroys the fear because it says that perfect love casts out all fear.

When all your fear is directed at God, His perfect love casts out all the fear and now you can live a life that’s truly free.

Some of you have made a mess of your life. You haven’t made wise choices and you’re suffering the consequences. There’s no shame in that, but redemption is possible. God takes our failures and brokenness and restores us into masterpieces. If we humble ourselves, He will lift us up. If we seek His wisdom and Kingdom and will, like will not always be easy, but it will be satisfying in this life…and the next.

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

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

Mourn, 19 July 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We mourn our losses.

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Psalm 34:18 says,

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

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

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

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

Perhaps most remarkable of all is how the psalm begins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We mourn our losses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week’s beatitude was in the present tense.

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

Theirs
is the kingdom of heaven. Now. Today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We mourn with others.

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

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

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

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

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

We mourn with others.

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

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

We mourn our loss.
We mourn with others.

One more thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Be The Name

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

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

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

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project.

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

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

Joseph: Joy, 22 December 2019

Joseph: Joy
Series—Away in a Manger
Luke 2:10, 21; John 16:33; Hebrews 12:2; Matthew 1:20-24; 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27
Philippians 4:4, 8; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Series Big Idea:
The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

Big Idea: Although they experienced pain and suffering, Joseph and Jesus were both filled with joy.

Does Jesus bring you joy?

I can tell you my first child brought me joy. Although we had been together for more than six years, the first time my wife saw me bawl like a baby was when I held our baby for the first time. Sheer joy! I did the same with our other two kids…and our grandbaby last year!

Joy. It’s one of those Christmas words we don’t often mention the rest of the year. We’re all pursuing happiness. That’s our right in this country, according to the Declaration of Independence.

But joy is different. Much different. We sing “Joy to the World,” but what does that really mean?

We have sanitized the Christmas story. I don’t know if it’s the Christmas pageants at churches with girls dressed in blue bathrobes or sweet songs like Silent Night or even beautiful stained glass and paintings depicting Mary riding gently on a donkey with her man, Joseph, at her side, but the scene was hardly one of comfort…though there was joy. Great joy.

Joy has been defined as,

  • - the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation
  • - a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated
  • - the expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
  • - a state of happiness or felicity.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

The word “joy” mentioned here in Luke 2 by the angel is the Greek word “chara” (khar-ah) which means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness, exceeding joy.

What makes you glad?
Who makes you cheerful?
When do you experience calm delight?

We are so often disappointed in our pursuit of happiness because life isn’t fair. Bad things happen. People let us down. Our expectations are not met. This is especially true this time of year.

This past week I learned of a pastor friend in Chicagoland who had a Blue Christmas service at his church yesterday, the longest night of the year. They called it, “A time to name and offer our darkness and grief to the God of Advent hope.” I love that. While it is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many, others are struggling—even now…in this room—with loneliness, financial concerns, stress, and anxiety. Many will sing along to Elvis about their
Blue Christmas. But that doesn’t make joy impossible.

Joy stems not from life’s circumstances, but the knowledge that although our world is
broken, God is in control. In a rare example of a good “but,” Jesus said

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We looked at this passage last Sunday when we focused on peace. But there’s great joy knowing Jesus has overcome the world. God’s light is greater than the world’s darkness. God’s truth is greater than all human lies. God’s love is greater than death.

One of the most amazing verses in the entire Bible says of Jesus,

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2b)

Joy and cross don’t usually belong in the same sentence. What this means is while Jesus was tortured and brutally murdered, he experienced joy. Not happiness. Not comfort. Not pleasure. But joy. He was able to look beyond his momentary troubles and recognize God the Father was up to something good. Redemption was coming for all humanity, along with reconciliation, forgiveness, salvation, and shalom.
Yesterday many of us gathered to mourn and grieve the loss of our dear brother Willie Heidebrink. He was a great man who loved Jesus, loved his family, and added value to so many lives. We hurt. We cry. We struggle. But we have joy looking beyond ourselves to Willie’s new reality. We have joy looking beyond this moment of grief—and we must grieve!—and anticipate a future reunion.

Author Mike Frost notes, “The message of Christmas is that God’s love comes to shine light into our darkness. That knowledge might not eliminate the darkness you’re struggling with now, but I trust it reminds you that God knows the despair, the pain, the anguish you’re currently enduring.” He is with us, which raises the question, “If God’s here, why doesn’t He do something about this pain/loss/grief/situation?”

He does. He’s given us the Holy Spirit. He’s given us one another to be the hands and feet of Jesus. He’s given us hope for an incredible eternity with Him. He’s giving us opportunities to trust, to identify with Jesus, the suffering servant. I don’t usually understand why, but I know God has a plan. He never wastes anything. He’s up to something. I believe He’s inviting us all to trust Him. In fact, if He’s spoken anything to me in 2019, it’s two words: “trust Me.”

I’ve heard them in the midst of some of the darkest moments of my vocational life this year. I’ve heard them as I am estranged from two family members. I’ve heard them as I seek the right words to share with you.

Choose Joy

There’s not much we can truly control in life, but we can control our attitude. We can choose joy. Henry Nouwen wrote,

To choose joy does not mean to choose happy feelings or an artificial atmosphere of hilarity. But it does mean the determination to let whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life. Maybe this is what is so important about quiet moments of meditation and prayer. They allow me to take a critical look at my moods and to move from victimization to free choice.

Pain is not an end. It’s not permanent. It’s temporary. It’s an invitation to world without pain. Joy is knowing there’s more to life than this moment. There’s more to reality than this world. This does not mean to deny our pain, but to remember we can have joy in the midst of it—just like Jesus—if our perspective is right.

In today’s scripture reading (Matthew 1:20-24), Joseph learns he is having a son…not from an ultrasound, but from an angel!

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23)

We don’t give Joseph much credit. Sure, he walked for about 90 miles to Bethlehem while Mary rode on a donkey—at least that’s what some painters think—but he was more than chivalrous.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

Joseph trusted God. He stayed with Mary and married her—which was no easy task given the culture’s take on babies out of wedlock. He was willing to be stepdad to the Messiah. He accepted the name given to him for his stepson. He would obey God’s orders to become flee to Egypt to spare the life of Jesus and making refugees out of his family. Yes, Jesus was a refugee. But that’s not until the second chapter of Matthew!

Jesus had joy, even while enduring the cross.
Joseph had joy, even though this baby wasn’t biologically his.

In both cases, joy was based upon obedience and bringing glory to the Father rather than happiness in the moment.

Paul is another example of a joy-filled man despite difficult circumstances. Not only did he have a mysterious “thorn in the flesh” which tormented him every day of his life (2 Cor. 12:7), he wrote that he had

“…been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-27, MSG)

Through all of Paul’s sufferings, he was a man of joy. He said,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

The entire book of Philippians is about joy, not from Paul’s circumstances, but because he had confidence in God’s sovereignty and a hope in heaven. He had joy because of his focus, his perspective.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Where are your eyes? Where’s your focus? Is your glass half-full or half-empty? Are you thinking about the things you don’t have or the blessings you do? Can you choose joy or do you prefer to complain and compare?

Paul’s joy began in his head, with his thoughts. He famously said,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

There was joy at the birth of Jesus. The long-awaited Messiah had arrived. Nobody delivers joy like a baby.

The story doesn’t end there.

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)

We usually end the story with the newborn King in the manger, but there was surely great joy for Joseph just days later as Jewish sons became included in the covenant relationship with God on their eighth day. This tradition called b’rit milah would set Jesus apart for God following Genesis chapter seventeen. The circumcision occurred on the eighth day since God worked six days, rested on the seventh, and day eight is a new cycle of a new week of new life set apart for the glory of God.

Baby Jesus wouldn’t remember the occasion, but Joseph surely did. It was a special moment for families to welcome their Jewish son into the covenant God had established with all of Israel throughout the generations. While there was, for Jesus, a moment of pain—hurt, not harm—joy surely filled Joseph’s heart.

One writer (Skit Guys) put it this way:

It was the joy of Joseph to call his son’s name “Jesus” during the covenant of circumcision celebration. As Joseph looked into the face of Jesus, the first time his son would bleed and cry out in pain, He would be looking into the eyes of His earthly father as Jesus was being welcomed into the covenant of God’s people. The final time Jesus would bleed would be thirty-three years later. Upon a Roman cross, Jesus would cry out for the last time while looking up toward the eyes of His Heavenly Father as He made a way for all people to enter into a covenant with God throughout eternity.
God saves.
Jesus saves.
And the joy of a father, both on earth and in heaven, remains more than we possibly can imagine this Christmas. But rest assured, the hopes and fears through all the years still are met in Jesus tonight, because he still saves. And it still is His joy to do so today.
The question is,
Does Jesus bring you joy?
We used to sing this song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” True and lasting joy won’t come from the new Star Wars movie or good seats at a Walleye game. You won’t find it under the Christmas tree or even on Amazon.
Real joy comes from seeking God’s glory, knowing He is with us—Emmanuel—even when we feel alone.
Real joy comes from knowing our story’s not over. There are more chapters to be written and the best is yet to come.
Real joy comes from serving others, knowing you are serving Jesus at the same time.
Real joy comes from surrendering control rather than fighting for something unattainable.
Real joy comes from the Son of God who came as a baby but will return soon as King of kings and LORD of lords.
In the meantime, as we wait for Advent—his second coming—we can fix our eyes on Jesus. We can stand amazed at his love for us—broken, imperfect sinners he left heaven for, he died for, he rose for, and that at this moment he is praying for.
How marvelous!
How wonderful!
How amazing!
Hallelujah!
Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Water: Boat & Walking, 26 May 2019

    Water: Boat & Walking
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:45-56

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

    Big Idea:
    Without Jesus, we will struggle in life’s storms.

    For about two thousand years, people have been telling stories about Jesus. He lived. He taught. He died. He rose again. He started the greatest movement in human history. He cast out demons. He raised the dead. He healed the sick. And someday soon He will return!

    My name is Kirk and today we’re continuing our series, Mark: The Real Jesus. We’re seeking to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”

    More than 4 billion people in the world “believe in Jesus,” but what do they believe? Since that number includes Muslims, what do the 2.4 billion Christians believe about Jesus? What does John Mark tell us, the biographer who likely wrote this book with the help of Peter, one of Jesus’ three best friends?

    In the sixth chapter of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus rejected in his hometown, sending out his twelve disciples two by two to do ministry, thought to be the resurrected John the Baptist, seeking quiet and rest, and feeding five thousand families with one boy’s lunch. No wonder he became famous without media, social or even traditional media!

    Today’s account is a popular story of Jesus performing a dramatic miracle that left his best friends amazed. I hope it leaves us amazed, too.

    What is Jesus’ greatest miracle? I believe it was the resurrection! Other than the resurrection, what do you think was Jesus’ greatest miracle?

    To set the scene, Jesus sent out the disciples in verse 7. They return with great stories of miraculous ministry in verse 30. The crowds were following them so in verse 31 Jesus tells them to spend some quiet time with him to get away from the people and get some rest. “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (verse 32).

    We all need solitude and rest. [riff on last weekend and the Life on Life retreats, Martha/Mary]

    However, the solitary place was anything but. By the time they arrived, the crowds had run ahead of them, leading Jesus to spend time feeding their minds, bodies, and souls. After everyone was satisfied with their meal, …

    Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. (Mark 6:45-46)

    They’ve all eaten this miraculous meal of fish and bread, and each of the disciples had a basket of leftovers for their boat ride snack! But where’s Jesus? He leaves the twelve disciples to get alone with the Father in prayer on a mountainside.

    Have you ever been on a mountainside? Obviously not in Toledo! Mountains are stunning.

    The Sea of Galilee has 33 miles of shoreline. It is 13 miles at its longest length.

    The hills around the Sea of Galilee reach nearly 1400 feet above sea level, which is just shy of the highest point in Ohio (Campbell Hill in Bellefontaine, 1550 feet).

    Jesus is not looking out as if he were at the top of the Rocky or Appalachian Mountains, but he has a nice view of the Sea of Galilee, no doubt, a beautiful place to hide from the crowds and pray.

    Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. (Mark 6:47)

    Sometimes I wish Mark gave us more details, but then again his biography is the shortest and most succinct of the four gospels, a word which means “good news.” It was night, the twelve are in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus is alone on land.

    He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. (Mark 6:48a)

    If you’ve ever been in a boat during a storm, it can be frightening. Some of us get frightened when we’re in a car during a storm…or even a house! On the water, lightning can be dangerous, the wind can make navigation challenging, water can fill the boat, causing it to sink, its getting dark (and that means “dark” since the clouds are blocking the moon and stars and there’s no electricity, even on shore), …it’s a scary place to be!

    Without Jesus, we will struggle in life’s storms.

    Storms are difficult enough with Jesus, but the struggle is even greater alone.

    Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. (Mark 6:48b-50a)

    First, it says it’s shortly before dawn, so by this time it’s very dark. Mark nonchalantly says Jesus goes out to them, walking on the lake. No, the lake was not frozen (if it was, the boat couldn’t sail…and the temperature rarely drops below 46 degrees…and that’s in January). This is what we call a miracle, a supernatural event. Jesus is walking on the lake, the Sea of Galilee (the terms are used interchangeably).

    Have you ever walked on water? I actually have several times…with some help. OK, technically I wasn’t walking. I was water skiing! I love to water ski. I remember the first time I was ever able to get up and I looked at the water below me and thought of this passage of the Bible. “Look, I’m walking on water!”

    On a side note, during my visit to Israel in 2006, I saw someone water skiing on the Sea of Galilee and had a rare burst of envy! If I ever go back to Israel, I
    have to water ski on that lake! I need to put that on my bucket list!

    The disciples are trying to stay alive in this brutal storm, Jesus happens to be walking out to them, he’s about to pass them by (!), they see him, think he’s a ghost, and cry like little children, terrified!

    Remember, it’s dark. It’s stormy. And how often have you seen someone walking on water?

    Jesus is with us in the storms, even if we don’t recognize him.

    Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:50b-52)

    Jesus’ best friends didn’t understand the miracle meal. They couldn’t believe the walking miracle. Now he climbs in the boat and they experience another miracle, the storm ending. Of course they were completely amazed, yet their hearts were hardened, it says.

    Jesus saw them struggling. You might be struggling right now. Jesus sees you. He knows your struggle.

    Is Jesus in your boat?

    You might be afraid of him, of letting him into your boat, into your life. We all love control, and letting go is so hard. Handing over the keys to Jesus seems like such a big risk. What will happen if I surrender? Take a step of faith and find out!

    I love how human the disciples appear to be in the Bible. They were not created by Marvel! Like each of us, they were filled with fear. They were clueless, at times. They were anxious and worried.

    Everything changed when Jesus was in their boat, when they recognized him.

    I’m sure Jesus could’ve calmed the storm from the mountainside when he saw their struggle, but he chose to be present, instead. Obviously he is not physically present in our lives like he was with the twelve, but he is with us. Before he ascended into heaven—this Thursday is Ascension Day—he said,

    And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

    In many ways, we actually have it better than the disciples. Jesus told them,

    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)

    That Advocate is the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew name for the Spirit is “ruach.” It means spirit, breath, or, interestingly, wind. The Holy Spirit lives inside every follower of Jesus. This (sanctuary) is not God’s house. This (my body) is God’s house, the place where the Holy Spirit dwells, producing gifts and fruit in our lives. The Greek word used in John 16,
    parakletos, means advocate, counselor, and comforter.

    I’m quite sure many of you could use a comforter in your life, a counselor, the Spirit of God. But first we must surrender. We must allow God into our boat. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit—daily, hourly, continually—like breathing. It’s not a once-and-done decision, but a moment-by-moment action.

    By the way, having God in your boat doesn’t mean the end of storms and trials, but it does mean you’ll never be alone. As one song says, “Sometimes He calms the storm/ Sometimes He calms His child.”

    The chapter concludes…

    When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:53-56)

    We can’t imagine how many sick people Jesus healed. I’m sure it was thrilling for not only those receiving the healing, but also for the countless witnesses, seeing miracles before their very eyes.

    God’s not done doing miracles. We’ve seen people in our First Alliance family healed physically. We’ve seen broken marriages restored. We’ve seen God answer prayers for jobs, relationships, and mental illness. Each Sunday we invite any and all to receive prayer at the conclusion of our worship gatherings, following the instructions of scripture to have the elders anoint the sick with oil.

    Conclusion

    What is Jesus’ greatest miracle? I believe it was the resurrection! Other than the resurrection, I believe the greatest miracle is not physical, but spiritual. When a selfish sinner surrenders their life to Jesus, that’s amazing! Letting go and letting God is so simple, yet so challenging. We want to be in control. Our pride wants to rule. But when we welcome God into our boat, the real transformation begins.

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

    Life-Altering Circumstances, 25 November 2018

    When Life Throws A Curve (Life-Altering Circumstances)
    D6 Series—When Life Gets Hard
    Matthew 3:1-17; 14:1-12; 11:1-19

    Series Overview: In this world we will have trouble, but we are never alone.

    Big Idea: Although life is full or surprises, God is good, faithful, and in control.

    So it’s officially the “most wonderful time of the year.” You know, that time when people jack up their credit cards buying gifts which will end up in next year’s garage sale. The season when greedy, selfish people feel generous for dropping a quarter in the Salvation Army bucket. The season when families gather only to argue about politics and eat more food than some small countries consumer in a year.

    The time when your football team…oh, never mind about that!

    I love Thanksgiving.
    I love Christmas.

    But despite being the most wonderful time of the year, for many it’s the most depressing, frustrating, financially-draining, emotionally exhausting, lonely time of the year.

    My name is Kirk and this month we’ve been in a series entitled
    When Life Gets Hard. We talked about broken relationships and mental illness. Jason, our guest from Indonesia, unknowingly contributed to our series two weeks ago when we spoke on failure. On this last Sunday before Advent, we’re talking about When Life Throws A Curve.

    Occasionally we have open mic times when we share about God’s faithfulness. Our next such gathering will be on New Year’s Eve.

    But imagine if we had an open mic to share about life-altering circumstances. We’ve all had them…or will. It might be a car accident (like the photo) but it could be a phone call, a conversation with a doctor, a letter in the mail, or even a text message.

    What do you do when you life looks nothing like you ever imagined or hoped? Perhaps even more important, how is your soul?

    If you ask God one question, what would it be?

    One national survey revealed the number one question people have for God is, “Why is there suffering in the world?”

    Some religions deny the existence of evil, calling pain and suffering mere illusions. Jesus, however, truthfully declared,

    In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33b)

    An Alliance pastor once said, “It is right that things are wrong in a wrong world. It would be wrong for everything to be right in a world gone wrong.”

    Our scripture reading for today tells a remarkably vivid and tragic story of John the Baptist. Like Job and Joseph and other godly people before him, John was devoted to following God. If anyone “deserved” good things in life as a reward for his obedience, it was Jesus’ cousin John. Yet he was hardly exempt from suffering.

    On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:6-12)

    It was bad enough that John was in prison…for speaking God’s truth (after Herod took his brother’s wife). I’m sure he never imagined being beheaded on account of a birthday dance! Although John went “to a better place,” it must’ve been catastrophic for his friends and family…including Jesus.

    We all recognize ever since Adam and Eve sinned against God we have lived with brokenness and pain.

    Great! So what now? What do we do when life throws a curve? Here are some ideas:

    Recognize God is not the creator of evil and suffering.

    Love always involves a choice. Free will. Entire books have been written on the subject, but suffice it to say satan chose to rebel against God and took other angels with him. From they moment, a spiritual war has been raging between good and evil, life and death. Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy. He may not be red with horns and a pitchfork, but we are all in the middle of a battlefield.

    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

    It’s easy to blame God for all of the problems in the world. Some simply encounter evil, blame God…and then stop believing in God. This makes emotional sense, but not logical sense. How can you fail to believe in someone you blame? Then again, the word “believe” has been misconstrued, especially in our use of John 3:16. What I do understand are people who followed God, encountered trouble, and removed their trust in God as a result. When you encounter the effects of sin, blame satan! God did not create evil and suffering.

    God can redeem suffering, using it for good.

    We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Life is not about our pleasure, but God’s glory. That’s hard for me to embrace sometimes—especially when life gets hard. I want to do things my way, but Dad knows best.

    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. (Romans 8:28)

    This verse has been abused perhaps more than it has been used appropriately, but the fact remains. God is at work when we submit to Him. Suffering is one means the work of God is displayed.

    Earlier in Romans—as we saw several weeks ago—it says,

    Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

    I admit I want perseverance, character, and hope in my life. But do we need suffering? I suppose I could also say I want a fit, healthy body, but do I need to watch what I eat and exercise? Obviously, we don’t choose suffering, but it’s a part of life, and it’s a tool God uses to shape us and draw us close to Him.

    The worst pain I ever endured was a kidney stone. I’m told childbirth is bad, too, but you have less to show for it in the end!

    A few years later, God revealed to me the purpose of my kidney stone. I was shocked, but I realized the one night of hospitalization opened up space for a conversation I had with a visitor, a conversation that greatly impacted the next twenty years of my life. Had I not been in the hospital, he never would’ve visited me and we never would’ve had that talk. It sounds odd, but I’m grateful for that kidney stone (and even more grateful I haven’t had another one!).

    None of us has a complete understanding of our present reality, much less the future.

    For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

    We can pray not only for God’s will and glory, but an understanding of His perspective. The story’s not over.

    Tony Campolo used to say, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!” For many of us, today is unbearable, yet tomorrow may not only be better, we may come to actually appreciate our suffering.

    Our temporary suffering will pale in comparison to eternal glory.

    Paul wrote of his very serious persecution,

    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
    British church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life—and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair. Reid asked him, "How old are you?" The boy said, "Seventeen." Reid asked, "How many years have you spend in hospitals?" The boy said, "Thirteen years." The pastor said with astonishment, "And you think that is fair?" And the boy replied: "Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me."
    That’s perspective! Listen to these words of encouragement:
    However, as it is written:

    “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” —the things God has prepared for those who love him— (1 Corinthians 2:9)

    I want to return to Jesus’ words in John 16.

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

    Jesus knows suffering. Jesus conquered suffering and death. He has the final word!
    Jesus brings peace.
    Jesus brings courage.
    Jesus brings presence…through the Holy Spirit.
    Jesus brings hope…the promise of heaven.

    Count Your Blessings

    We are all so blessed. The simple fact that you can understand what I’m saying is a blessing. The freedom to have access to the Bible, to be alive, to know about Jesus, to know Jesus…

    Someone once said the only thing you can control is your attitude. It could always be better, yes, but it could always be worse. Count your blessings. Last week we looked at this powerful verse which is so convicting to me:

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

    Pray with thanksgiving. That’s appropriate after this past Thursday, right? Count your blessings!

    Don’t Go Alone

    Get in a small group. Attend Celebrate Recovery. Reach out to a friend. Church is not a building. Church is not a gathering. Church is a family of messy, broken people pursuing Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of what it means to be human, and the one person who understands pain, suffering, grief, and loss better than anyone.

    One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

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

    God created us for community. We need one another. We need to lean on one another, celebrate with one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, cry with one another, laugh with one another.

    This is especially true at this time of year. The holidays are truly the most wonderful time of the year for some, and the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking time for others. Family, this season is a wonderful opportunity to give and receive help, to give and receive love. Let’s rejoice—and mourn—together.

    Don’t Give Up

    Research has shown often people quit right before their greatest breakthrough. No matter how you are feeling, not matter the challenges you face, or the pain you are enduring, you might be days or even hours from a miracle.

    Jesus himself taught us to persevere in our prayers, to not give up. He said,

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

    What you might not know—unless you know Greek—is this is a conditional promise. It could be literally translated, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.”

    Keep praying. Keep praising. Even in the storm. I can tell you from experience God is good. He can be trusted. If it doesn’t feel like it now, just wait. Don’t give up. You may be on the verge of a miracle. And even if God says wait a little longer, He is near. His ways are higher than our ways. He is faithful.

    It Is Well

    Horatio Spafford established a very successful legal practice in Chicago. A devout Christian, he lost his fortune in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, shortly after his son died. He planned a much-needed rest for his remaining family in Europe in 1873. When last-minute business kept him in Chicago, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead with plans to catch up with them days later.

    The ship was struck by another vessel and sank in twelve minutes. When the survivors finally landed days later in Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone.”

    On his voyage to join his wife, he penned profound lyrics as he approached the area of the ocean floor where it was believed his four daughters had sunk.

    When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
    When sorrows like sea billows roll
    Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
    It is well, it is well with my soul

    How is your soul?

    Credits: some ideas from D6, Lee Strobel, In The Midst by John Stumbo

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

    Depression and Anxiety, 18 November 2018

    When Being Down Gets Dangerous (Depression and Anxiety)
    D6 Series—When Life Gets Hard
    1 Kings 19; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:7; Revelation 21:4

    Series Overview:
    In this world we will have trouble, but we are never alone.

    Big Idea: Depression and anxiety are real…but not insurmountable with help.

    Elijah

    He was one of the greatest, most godly people in the Bible. He had just seen God do one of the most incredible miracles in the history of the world, literally calling fire down from heaven! “When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39) What a moment!

    In the very next chapter, 1 Kings 19, it says

    Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:3-4)

    We’ve all had bad days, perhaps even bad months. This has been a challenging year for our church with a great many losses of various kinds. But have you ever asked God to take your life? Have you ever been so depressed you wanted to die…or even tried to die?

    I want to give you—especially parents—a heads-up; our subject for today is heavy. Today as we continue our series
    When Life Gets Hard, we’re going to look at the subject of anxiety and depression: when being down gets dangerous. If it seems like suicide is a growing problem in our nation, it’s because it is. The CDC reports it grew 24% between 1999 and 2014 and continues to rise. It’s the second leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 24 and the third for those between 10 and 14, yet it has been growing the most among men in their fifties. And every day more than 20 veterans and active military members take their life.

    Anxiety and depression do not always lead to such an extreme outcome, of course, but they can be debilitating. There are three types of people listening to me right now: those who have or are experiencing mental illness, those who are helping those with mental illness, and those who simply don’t understand it. I hope to provide biblical help and encouragement to all of you today.

    Depression and anxiety
    are real human experiences. The ADAA reports anxiety affects 40 million adults in the US. Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only 36.9% of sufferers receive treatment. Nearly half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. And I know it is impacting many people in this room.

    Elijah certainly experienced anxiety and depression, ironically following one of the greatest triumphs of his life. Let me set the scene.

    In 1 Kings 18, Elijah the prophet meets Ahab the king and accuses him and his family of abandoning the LORD and following the false prophets of Baal. Then,

    Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

    But the people said nothing. (1 Kings 18:21)

    Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’S prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

    Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” (1 Kings 18:22-24)

    Elijah offers a challenge. He says let’s each take a bull, put it on the altar, and see whose God will set it on fire.

    The people shouted for hours, dancing and calling on the name of Baal to deliver fire to the altar. Nothing happens.

    At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. (1 Kings 18:27-28)

    Evening comes, Elijah gets his altar ready, has the people dump four large jars of water on the offering and on the wood. And again. And a third time. The altar is soaked. The crowd is watching and waiting. Elijah prays to God.

    Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

    When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39)

    Elijah and the LORD are victorious, the prophets of Baal are seized, and Elijah announces the end of a famine as a heavy rain begins. The next chapter begins:

    Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:1-2)

    You have to admit, when the queen wants your head, it’s understandable to be concerned, but Elijah had just seen God’s power unleashed on Mount Carmel in front of the masses. Surely God can deal with an angry queen! This is Elijah the prophet!

    Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:3-4)

    Elijah is a godly man, yet he freaked out. His actions exasperated the situation. He literally runs away, abandoning his servant, and later meditates on his mistreatment and hides in a cave! These behaviors are not unlike those who suffer with anxiety and depression.

    God has uniquely created you and me. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s masterpiece. Despite being made in His image, we all have flaws. We have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual weaknesses. Although our souls are eternal, our bodies and minds have significant limitations.

    Unfortunately, many have dismissed mental illness as imaginary or the result of demons. While our bodies are flawed and decaying as a result of sin, mental illness can be every bit as real as a physical issue…and can often have the same causes.

    If mental illness were simply a spiritual issue, only non-Christians would struggle. Furthermore, godly men like Elijah would never even think of asking God to take their lives.

    I’ve been privileged to have several friends who are Jesus-loving, Bible-based Christian counselors. I want to acknowledge some of my material today is from Eileen Sappington from Ann Arbor. Here are some important facts to consider:

    - All cultures have had problems with mental illnesses.

    - Mental illnesses can affect any age, race, religion, or income.

    - Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing.

    - In many cultures, those with a mental illness were considered the bottom of society and were often locked away in jails, back rooms, abused in Asylums, and used for entertainment.

    - Christianity and mental illness is a complex issue, even for professional counselors and therapists, theologians, pastors, and Christian researchers.

    As Christians, we have historically had no problem helping those suffering from heart disease and cancer, but we often blame mental illness on the patient. Many Christians have been told “If you just prayed more and developed a better attitude, you wouldn’t be so depressed.” Tell that to Elijah! He was a prayer warrior! James even wrote,

    Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (James 5:17)

    Like heart disease, mental illness can hit any of us, and can subsequently impact all of us.

    Obviously our time is very limited. There’s no way in half an hour or half a day I could ever fully address all of the issues related to mental illness, but I want you to hear a story and then I want to share some next steps for all of us.

    My Story: Kaytee Schultze, Celebrate Recovery assimilation coach

    For those of you taking notes, I’ve already said

    Depression and anxiety are real human experiences.

    If you encounter someone struggling, ask how you can help. Ask how you can pray for them. Don’t try to fix them! Seek understanding. Listen.

    God gives us wisdom.

    This is true for the struggling, the friends, and the professionals alike. Surgeons don’t have all of the answers, therapists don’t have all of the answers, but God does. I don’t know why He says “no” or “wait” when we cry out to Him, but I do know He is good and faithful.

    Our scripture reading for today says

    Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

    I know, I don’t like trials, either, let alone consider them pure joy! However, trials have a purpose. This includes physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational trials. The bottom line for every follower of Jesus is God’s glory. We might not understand our present sufferings, but someday we will. I’m not saying life is easy. I’m not saying, “Don’t worry, be happy!” But I am saying we need to lean into God…and one another. As we noted recently in the psalms, we can be real with God. Peter wrote,

    Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

    It might not feel like it, but it’s a fact.

    Often we struggle because we’re so focused on our own issues we fail to look to God. We need to seek His wisdom, His perspective. He even promises to give it!

    If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

    But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8)

    Often God has used trials in my life to get my attention, to develop humility, to bring me to my knees in surrender. God never seeks to harm us, but life can hurt. As we are shaped into the image of Jesus, the potter’s tools can be uncomfortable as our pride, comfort, and selfishness are chiseled away.

    If you’re struggling with mental illness, I want to offer a few simple resources:

    - The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is
    800.273.TALK.

    - The Battle Ready podcast, episode 2 (mental illness), available in audio and video

    - Celebrate Recovery, Wednesdays at 7 PM in the Fellowship Hall, 2214 Monroe

    - Professional Counseling with Jane Ginter from
    Christian Care Connection

    -
    The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (not a Christian publication)

    - Tell a friend, spouse, co-worker, church staff member; don’t do this alone!

    - Fill your mind with the truth. Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out. I’m not being simplistic, but rather stating the importance of our environment, our entertainment, our minds. My wife’s favorite scripture says,

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

    At any given moment, I can list 100 things I’d like to change about life…but also 100 things for which I’m thankful and blessed. In EVERY situation, present your requests to God…with thanksgiving! That’s a prescription for peace. It’s not a quick-fix, cure-all, but it is a timeless truth which we could probably all practice more. I know I could!!!!

    God can use therapy, medication, exercise, prayer, and friendship to address emotional problems. As I said, it usually takes time and effort like most physical healing. But be encouraged.

    God gives us hope.

    Even while we struggle in this life, help is available. Healing is possible. Hope is real. And while I want to be careful not to be simplistic, this world is temporary, a mere speck on the timeline of eternity. Here’s what we have to look forward to:

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

    And finally,

    God is always with us.

    Again, I’m not saying it always feels like it, and I realize the valid response, “If God is with us, why doesn’t He do something about my misery?”

    I don’t know.
    I don’t understand why.
    I have many questions for God. Many involve mental illness.

    Although I have never been diagnosed with a condition, members of my family have dealt with anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anorexia. When it first appeared, I was confused, troubled, and searching for answers. After years of loving family members and friends through mental illness, I’m still searching for answers. I’m still confused and troubled. But I know God is with us. That’s what Christmas is all about…Emmanuel, God with us. And since God dwells in each follower of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, that means Christians are to be Jesus with skin on, serving, listening, helping, and loving others, whether the struggle is financial, physical, relational, spiritual, or mental.

    I want to share something written by someone I deeply love. I’ll protect their identity, but I was given permission to share this social media post.

    I have OCD. Like, the real kind. Diagnosed at age 7. It has messed up my life more than anyone can imagine. I was diagnosed with depression at age 10. I’ve just come to accept the fact that that will always be part of my life. I’ve been hospitalized for psychiatric care. One of the worst experiences of my life. Other patients asked me what I was doing there because I seemed so “normal”.

    That’s the thing about mental health. It’s the part of the iceberg you can’t see. Sometimes it’s really easy to hide. Other times, not so much. But I rarely talk about it because I’m so much more than my dysfunctional brain.

    I’m a third grade teacher.
    I’m a graduate student at Columbia University.
    I’m a dog mom.
    I’m a NYC resident.
    I’m a theatre geek.

    I am not my illnesses.

    #endthestigma

    The struggle is real. Regardless of your present sufferings, there is help and wisdom and hope available.

    Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalms 42:5)

    Mental Illness Resources

    The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook
    NAMI Toledo, National Alliance on Mental Illness
    Christian Care Connection (counseling on our church campus)
    The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800.273.TALK
    Celebrate Recovery, Wednesdays at 7 PM, 2214 Monroe Street, Toledo
    Directory of Toledo area Christian counselors

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

    A Song of Distress, 22 July 2018

    A Song of Distress
    D6 Series—More Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
    Psalm 44

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

    Big Idea: God is good and faithful…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

    Last Sunday in a skit, I played the part of a man tempting someone toward self-harm, first through cutting, then with a gun. I must admit it was a fun part to play as we performed the drama in the Dominican Republic, knowing how the skit would conclude, with Jesus pushing back the temptations and bringing freedom to the lead actress. The greater the evil, the greater the victory when satan is defeated (and one day he will be defeated for eternity).

    But although the acting was fun in the DR, I struggled to reprise the part last Sunday. Just hours before—late Saturday night—I was trying to stop a loved one from committing suicide. 911 was called. EMS and the police were involved. It was one of the worst nights of my entire life.

    Have you ever had one of those nights? Days?

    What do you do? Where do you go? Who do you call? How do you cope?

    Let me be clear, some of life’s pain is the result of our disobedience to God. Poor choices do not deny us the right to seek grace and healing, but we know where to place the blame.

    But what happens when you obey God and your life is turned upside down?

    When you devote your life to serving God overseas and find yourself unexpectedly returning to the States due to a health issue?

    When you pray for your children before they are even conceived, take parenting classes, invest in Christian schools, model a Christ-like home, …and they abandon your family and/or faith?

    When you exercise, eat healthy, prioritize sleep, …and the doctor delivers an incurable diagnosis?

    When you utilize every resource at your disposal in making a project succeed…and it collapses?

    When you do the right thing, tell the truth, refuse to compromise…and you find yourself in the unemployment line?

    What do we do when we pursue Jesus, obey God, and our world falls apart? When we find ourselves dialing 911? When God seems asleep? When we can’t find God? That’s our subject for today.

    Today we’re looking at Psalm 44, a passionate plea from God’s people in the midst of distress.

    The word
    distress means “extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.” We’ve all experienced it one way or another, and let me restate there are two types of distress: those that are the result of our poor choices and those that are the result of…life.

    I must confess when someone comes to me in self-inflicted distress, I’m tempted to judge…and I often yield to the temptation in sin. You need money for your prescription and you just bought a bunch of Mountain Dew? You verbally abuse your girlfriend and she broke up with you? You skipped class every day and failed your exam?

    But what about when you do the right thing and suffer?

    Let’s turn to Psalm 44.

    For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.

    This is not a psalm of David, but nevertheless it appears to be related to music, perhaps lyrics to a song or poetry. A maskil is a Hebrew term found in thirteen psalms with an unknown meaning. We do know a group of people, the sons of Korah, wrote it.

    We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. (Psalms 44:1-2)

    This is sounding like a psalm of praise to God.

    It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. (Psalms 44:3)

    These are accounts of God’s faithfulness to Israel. So far, so good.

    You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. (Psalms 44:4-7)

    God is their King and God. He has led the Israelites to victories. The writer says His trust is not in his bow or sword, but in the LORD…where it should be!

    In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.
    (Psalms 44:8)

    I’m sure the psalmist wanted to end here. Don’t we love to sing songs of worship and praise? Our God is an awesome God. How great Thou art. Praise to the LORD the Almighty. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. To God be the Glory. How Firm a Foundation. Crown Him with Many Crowns.

    And then comes that word…that small word which slams on the brakes and makes a u-turn.

    But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy and our adversaries have plundered us. You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. (Psalms 44:9-11)

    Yikes!

    You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale. You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. (Psalms 44:12-14)

    These are strong accusations against God. Look at the results.

    I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge. (Psalms 44:15-16)

    Okay, what happened? Did the people abandon God? If you’re going through Mission 119 with us, you know in the book of Judges—and throughout the Bible—the people follow God, forget God, suffer, and return to God…over and over and over again. So this shift must be God’s punishment for their disobedience, right? Not so fast.

    All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. (Psalms 44:17-18)

    They were faithful to God, …

    But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (Psalms 44:19-22)

    Have you ever felt crushed by God? I have. I hate it! I don’t like pain. I avoid discomfort. I like safe, simple, and secure. I don’t like darkness, facing death all day long, or the idea of being a sheep to be slaughtered.

    What do you do when you feel crushed, abandoned?

    My Story: Lynn Kampfer

    When in distress, I hope you’re honest—with yourself, with others, and most of all with God.

    I don’t know where we get the idea that life is supposed to be easy. I do think it’s a western thing, maybe even a USAmerican thing. After all, we’re promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of…happiness, right?

    We don’t suffer well, or at least I don’t suffer well. I moan and complain. I get bent out of shape. I wonder what I did wrong, which is not necessarily a bad step to take, by the way, since sometimes we do reap what we sow.

    But we’ve believed the lie that following Jesus means life will be happy, happy, happy. But that’s hardly biblical.

    Abram and Sarai suffered for nearly a century waiting for a promised child.
    Noah was mocked as he spent decades building a floating zoo.
    Job lost everything. Everything.
    Joseph is thrown into prison and forgotten…for saying no to sin.
    John was boiled alive.
    The other disciples died as martyrs.
    Paul…he had lists of his distress, including shipwrecks and beatings, and stonings.
    And most important of all, Jesus, of course was crucified.

    It’s a long, long list. What do you do when you are in distress? I hope you’re honest, like today’s scripture reading passage.

    Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love. (Psalms 44:23-26)

    I love these verses. I’m glad the psalmist didn’t stop with praise. He kept it real. He got messy. He poured out his heart to God. We can, too. Here’s another translation of the Hebrew text:

    Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression? We collapse in the dust, lying face down in the dirt. Rise up! Help us! Ransom us because of your unfailing love. (Psalms 44:23-26)

    I especially love the final sentence: ransom us because of your unfailing love. He is reminding God of his love! “Don’t forget, LORD, You love me! You wouldn’t sleep while I suffer. You can’t forget Your children.”

    I remember “reminding” God of His goodness and faithfulness as I drove to and from the hospital countless times to see our daughter. It was a good reminder for me, too, for God
    is good and faithful and His love is unfailing.

    So What?

    But what do we do when we are in distress? How are we to respond to crisis?

    First,
    pray. I know, it sounds cliché, but prayer works. It changes circumstances. It changes us. Sometimes all we can do is pray, and that’s both frustrating and liberating, knowing some things are simply beyond our control. If you are in a place to make a decision—such as choosing a hospital for a friend or seeking a job after an unexpected loss—pray for wisdom. Psalm 44 is a prayer to God. The Bible is filled with prayers. God loves to hear your voice. Always. Sure, He knows your heart, but He loves to hear your voice.

    Have you ever been so distraught you didn’t even know what or how to pray?

    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. Romans 8:26

    Last weekend in the midst of despair, I didn’t even know what to say except, “Help!” I said, “Holy Spirit, please groan!”

    As we pray, we need four things:

    We need
    perspective. This was Sue Trumbull’s word this past week, emerging from her lips multiple times as she dealt with a variety of people and situations. It’s not always helpful to think, “It could be worse,” but then again, I’ve often found it comforting. As Rev. Thomas George says, we were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Does God want us happy? Sure, but His higher priority is to make us holy. He uses trials and suffering to grow us and shape us to be used for His glory. I don’t always understand why He gives sometimes and takes away at other times, but I know He can be trusted. He’s God. He’s perfect. No matter how challenging life becomes, a hundred years is a blink compared to eternity. That’s perspective!

    We need to
    look back. God has always been good and faithful, and He never changes. The people of Israel were constantly forgetting God’s past activity. A prayer journal is a great tool for building your faith, seeing what God has done.

    We need to
    look forward. Your story is not over. Your breakthrough may be just days away…or even hours away. It’s easy to become discouraged or even depressed about this moment, but God is in control and there’s more to come.

    We need
    one another.

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

    Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

    Family, there’s two parts to this. First, we need to be willing to serve and support our brothers and sisters in need. Pray. Visit. Buy gift cards. Deliver meals. Babysit. Be present. We have some incredible shepherds in our family who are quick to respond to the needs of others.

    But there’s a second part to this, and it is asking for help. I’m sick of hearing about people who tell the world nobody cares, yet they never bother to join a small group, reveal their pain to others, and swallow their pride and ask for help. Family, we can’t carry your burdens if we don’t know what they are!

    We have a team of deacons and deaconesses who provide resources—visitation, skilled labor, and even financial help through our benevolence fund which they oversee.

    We’re not a perfect family. No family is, but we are committed to helping one another on the journey. We have a benevolence fund to help with financial matters, but a deacon or deaconess needs to know of the need. Call or e-mail the office. Share your situation with your small group. And if you’re not in a small group, you’re missing out on community, relationships, and care. There’s a list of groups on our website, the weekly
    Focus e-newsletter, and the information kiosk in the lobby.

    Conclusion

    God can be trusted. He may feel distant, but His promise is to be with us always, to the very end of the age. Call out to Him. Cry out to Him. And let us love you, serve you, and support you, too.

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The Believer's Quest, 10 June 2018

    The Believer’s Quest: With Eternity in Mind
    D6 Series—
    Stewards of the Gospel
    2 Corinthians 4:1-18

    Series Overview:
    Believers are to love God and love their neighbor, being good stewards of the gospel, the good news.

    Big Idea: The believer is to live with eternity in mind.

    Introduction

    I love kids (I suppose that’s a good thing since we’re about to get bombarded by 130 of them this week for Sports & Arts Camp!). Heather and I have been blessed to have three kids…but they’re all grown and adulting now, though we are very excited about becoming grandparents in November thanks to Rachel and her husband, Mark!

    When our children were little, Heather used to ask, “Why do they have so much energy?” to which I would reply, “They steal it from us which is why we don’t have any!”

    Kids are great. They are innocent. They ask amazing questions. They view the world so differently than adults. They also see time differently. There are certainly exceptions, but it seems the younger the person, the more oblivious they are of the future. Sure, children might have countdowns to Christmas or their birthday, but many cannot see beyond today, this hour, or perhaps this minute. Maybe some of can relate. If you’re fully present and attentive at this moment, that can be a really good thing, especially for my ability to communicate with you!

    But if our focus is only on this moment, we may not be ready for lunch, work tomorrow, summer vacation, or preparations for school in the fall…to say nothing of eternity.

    I admit, it’s often hard for me to see beyond today. I read
    The Blade and feel hopeless…and that’s just the sports section! Actually, it has been exciting to see some of my favorite teams that have struggled throughout this decade are improving.

    But that’s my point. We can’t live today without thinking about tomorrow. I don’t mean worrying about tomorrow. I mean preparing for tomorrow. It
    is coming. Are you ready?

    This month we’re looking at a book written by Paul to the church in the city of Corinth in south-central Greece.

    Our series is called
    Stewards of the Gospel, what does it mean for believers to possess good news—Jesus is LORD—and share it, proclaim it, live it? Jesus entrusted his work to us, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit. There is no plan B. Our lives matter, not only to God, but to our world.

    Paul wrote two letters to the church in Corinth—1 Corinthians and…2 Corinthians. Around AD 55, Paul wrote his second letter in the midst of false teachers who were challenging Paul’s authority and character. In the opening verses, Paul—and Timothy—provide encouragement in the midst of suffering.

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

    If you are discouraged, suffering, or struggling with your faith or because of your faith or in spite of your faith, you’re in good company, both with the church in Corinth and First Alliance Church. But honestly, most of us have never encountered the suffering Paul and Timothy had faced, including feeling the sentence of death (2 Cor. 1:9).

    Our text today is from chapter 4, but since it begins with a “therefore,” we must first address what the therefore is there for. He’s addressing the church, a group of believers, and as such, there is something of an assumption that his audience is filled with people who have devoted their lives to Yeshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Although the original letter had no chapters or verse numbers, we can turn to chapter 3, verse 17…

    Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate
    the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

    Believers are being transformed to become like Jesus through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. We have a
    quest, a mission, a purpose…to know God and make Him known, living with eternity in mind.

    Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1)

    Life is hard. Discouragement is all too common. Depression is real, and can even lead to the ultimate despair—suicide. Kate Spade’s death this past week was another reminder of the intensity of suffering…and if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, I urge you to get help. Talk with me. Call 800.275.TALK (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). Attend Celebrate Recovery next Wednesday (our church calendar has been cleared this week due to Sports & Arts Camp).

    But Paul is saying we do not lose heart. We can’t just focus on this moment—the pain, the sorrow. God is in control. He is at work making all things new. It doesn’t look complete because God’s not done yet. Just wait. There is hope.

    How easy is it in this life to lose heart, to give up? Much research has suggested people often quit right before a breakthrough. One statistic—which may or may not be true but is worth pondering—is 97% of people who quite too soon are employed by the 3% who never give up.

    A few years ago, I read a report which suggested if couples in crisis would simply give their marriage two more years, they would likely overcome whatever is threatening their relationship and move on with a healthier marriage. At the time, a good friend told me his marriage was over and I explained the report and said, “Would you please just give it two years? I’ll do everything I can to help you both, but don’t quit too soon.” He said, “We have struggled for six months. How about eighteen months?” I said eighteen months would be fine. They both committed to working on their marriage for eighteen months. It wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t always easy. But today they are not only happily married having worked through some significant issues, they have a beautiful daughter, too!

    Whether it’s your marriage or your job or your prayers for an unbelieving friend or your work on a crossword puzzle, don’t give up! Don’t lose heart.

    Seriously, Paul and Timothy had life-threatening issues related to their ministry but they persevered. Ministry is hard. It can kill you. Literally! And we’re all called by God into ministry—to love God, love others, and make disciples. That’s not just a professional Christian thing. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been commissioned as a missionary…and ministry can be hard. It can be frustrating. It’s so tempting to throw in the towel, but don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. God sees your efforts. He knows your struggles. You are not forgotten.

    Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 4:2-3)

    False teachers were twisting the truth, watering down the gospel, but not Paul. Paul’s message is clear—Jesus is LORD.

    Family, the gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. Jesus loves us, died for us, reconciles us to our heavenly Father, offers us hope, offers us forgiveness, offers us abundant and eternal life, shows us what it means to be human, teaches us how to live…

    The late Keith Green sang, “How can they live without Jesus/How can they live without God’s love/How can they feel so at home down here/When there’s so much more up above.” Look, it’s hard to live this life
    with Jesus, but living without Christ? I can’t imagine! Jesus gave us a mission—a commission—to go and make disciples, to proclaim good news, to let the world know Jesus is alive! Tragically, millions of men, women and children have no knowledge of Jesus. They’ve never heard his name, much less been introduced to His love, the cross, the empty tomb, and his promised return. That’s why we support the Great Commission Fund—that all may have an opportunity to accept or reject Jesus Christ as not only Savior but also LORD.

    But what about those who have heard and who have rejected? Honestly, it boggles my mind! How can you say no to Jesus? How can you opt out of forgiveness? How can you decline an invitation to experience eternity with God? How can you walk away from someone who died for you? Paul explains it in one sentence.

    The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

    I love this image. Paul was talking about a veil. It’s as if satan covers the eyes of unbelievers so they can’t see Jesus. The reason people reject Jesus is because of satan getting in the way, covering their eyes, blinding their minds.

    A popular worship song in the 90’s said, “Open the eyes of my heart, LORD/Open the eyes of my heart/I want to see You/I want to see You.”

    Do you want to see God? Do you want to know God?

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

    One of my constant prayers is for God to remove the veil, to open the eyes, to tear off the mask that blinds unbelievers and keeps them from seeing how wonderful the image of God, Jesus Christ.

    For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
    made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

    But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

    This is where the popular group Jars of Clay got their name. We are weak, broken vessels. The great thing about jars of clay is that the light shines through the cracks. The light of Jesus can shine through our brokenness.

    We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

    Paul will later write, “For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10b). It’s all about Jesus.

    It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:13-15)

    Now Paul’s looking to the future. He’s not forgetting the present, but he’s encouraging the church with God’s promises of heaven.

    Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

    In the midst of an extended out-of-state hospitalization, our daughter had a photo of a cruise ship she kept close. My parents had planned a vacation for us and our daughter's health was a potential obstacle. She was suffering with CRPS, the second most painful condition known to humankind. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome feels like pouring gasoline into your veins and lighting them on fire. The path to relief included physical therapy so intense it sometimes caused her to pass out. In the midst of the struggle, she drew inspiration—hope—from that photo. She did not fix her eyes on her present pain, but rather the future, the healing, the cruise.

    She did it, by the way, walk with crutches onto the cruise ship.

    So What?

    Where’s your focus? What dominates your thoughts? Your present condition? The state of our nation? Today’s headlines…or a secure future with our Creator?

    Yes, “some Christians are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good,” but at the same time there’s so much negativity in our world it’s easy to be discouraged rather than preparing for eternity…and helping others prepare by generously sharing faith, hope, and love.

    It’s a joy, a privilege to be able to introduce people to Jesus. Good news needs to broadcast!

    In the faith hall of fame, the book of Hebrews says,

    These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

    Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Let’s use it prepare ourselves and others for an incredible eternity with Jesus.

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Grace is Greater than Your Circumstances, 24 September 2017

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    Grace Is Greater Than Your Circumstances
    Series: Grace is Greater
    I Thessalonians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 11:21-23, 12:7-10; Romans 8:18-30

    Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.

    Big Idea: Circumstances and obstacles will attempt to drown out God’s grace in our lives; we must trust in him anyway.

    Life is hard. God is good.
    That’s all I want to say. Life is hard. God is good.

    We’re continuing our series Grace is Greater, including some ideas borrowed from Kyle Idleman’s book of the same name. We said grace is unmerited favor, a free gift, an undeserved blessing. As a review, in week one we said grace is greater than your mistakes.

    The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace.

    God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness.

    God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets.

    And quoting author Philip Yancey,

    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.

    That’s amazing! That’s grace!

    Last week we said
    grace is greater than your hurts.

    We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God.

    We Must Release the Person Who Hurt Us Over to God.

    Reconciliation May Not Always Be Possible or Appropriate, but It Can Reflect God’s Grace and Forgiveness Toward Us.

    In other words, if we’ve received grace and forgiveness, we must extend grace and forgiveness.

    Today we’re talking about circumstances…trials and suffering. Grace is greater. This hits close to home for all of us because we live in a broken, messed-up world infested with sin. We are a long way from the paradise of the Garden of Eden. But God is with us…and God is good…all the time…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

    Some of you are in the midst of brutal
    storms. Like the barrage of earthquakes and hurricanes south of us, your life is shaking. Your body may be failing. Your relationships might be eroding. Your finances might be draining. Your addictions and temptations might be overwhelming. Whatever storm you’re experiencing, grace is greater…really.

    Like many things in life, our approach to life’s storms are a matter of perspective. Take snow storms, for example. As a kid, we all loved snow days, right? I may complain of slow traffic, treacherous driving, and the necessity of shoveling but my grumbling will do nothing to change the circumstance. What I may perceive as a hassle is a gift to every student, tow truck operator, ski resort, and snow blower dealer. And no matter how miserable you may feel, it can always be worse. The only thing you can control in life is your attitude.

    Thankfulness Helps Us Trust God and Acknowledge His Grace in Our Lives.

    I’ve heard so many people inquire about God’s will for their lives. Would you like to know it?

    …give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

    It doesn’t say give thank for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. If we took time to list all of our complaints and concerns we’d be here all day, but no matter what storm you’re facing, there is much for which to be thankful.

    But there’s a slight problem with my mention of this verse…the context…the dots! Here’s the rest of the sentence.

    Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

    Paul is writing to the church in the city of Thessaloniki. Here’s Gods’ will:

    Rejoice always
    Pray continually
    Give thanks in all circumstances

    Idleman writes, “God takes complaining personally, because complaining overlooks the greatness of the grace we have received.” A recent study revealed the more people complain, the more they find things about which to complain. Thankfulness destroys complaining, negativity, and ungratefulness.

    The Bible tells us to “give thanks” dozens of times. Thankfulness can shift your focus and actually change the way you think and behave.

    Do you know anyone who constantly complains? Would you like to vacation with them?
    Do you know anyone who is thankful and positive? Do you like to be around them?

    God is God. He wants us to be honest. We can be real with our struggles and cares, but we must set those in the context of God’s grace and faithfulness. One of my favorite prayer tools is ACTS

    Adoration
    Confession
    Thanksgiving
    Supplication (requests)

    When I align my prayers with ACTS, often by the time I finish thanksgiving my requests seem so small, so easy for God.

    Are you thankful?

    Second,

    We’re Able to Receive God’s Grace Only to the Extent We’re Able to Recognize Our Need for It

    I believe the single greatest reason for the decline of the movement of Jesus in the western world is we don’t need God…or we don’t think we need God. Think about your prayer life. When was it most vibrant? Probably in crisis. It’s funny how we pray when storms come and often quit when the coast is clear. This has even been true during the past few weeks. People who never mention God have been suddenly asking people to pray when a hurricane is headed their way.

    Friends, we need God, and the sooner we recognize that and act like it, the sooner we will experience the joy of a true relationship with God.

    Our youngest daughter went through nine years of nasty storms that included chronic pain, blindness, an eating disorder, lymphedema, and a leg amputation. She spent a lot of time crying out to God…and so did her parents! I remember vividly one moment when I prayed, “LORD, thank You for calming the storms in her life. Thank You for the remission of pain, the restoration of her sight, the control of her diet, and a prosthetic leg. I want to replace my petitions with praises. I don’t want to get up off my knees. I never want to forget your grace. Great is Thy faithfulness.”


    Being desperate for God is the most wonderful place to be, even when it’s the most uncomfortable. Sore knees lead to soothed souls. Paul, who wrote to Thessaloniki, also wrote to the church in Corinth. He said,

    in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me,
    “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

    We don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was—some say a physical pain, a birth defect, an addiction, …we don’t know. We do know he begged God three times to calm the storm in his life and God said no. He said His grace was sufficient. God knew as long as Paul relied on God, Christ’s power would be celebrated rather than Paul’s gifts.

    I’ve experienced this countless times in my preaching. There are some weeks when I drive onto our campus excited about my message, prepared and ready to go. Sure, it’s God’s Word and the Holy Spirit who have given me the ideas and words, but I’m tempted to take the credit for a job well done as I shake hands in the lobby afterward. I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I am strong, my flesh wants to be recognized and applauded. That’s the ugliness of pride.

    There are other Sundays, however, when I’ve done my very best to prepare but am woefully aware of my inadequacies. Maybe the week was filled with unexpected interruptions or I’m not feeling well or I’m personally so challenged by the topic I can’t imagine offering much to others. Whatever the reason, I simply cry out to God, begging Him to speak through me knowing I have little to offer on my own. Is it any surprise those are the Sundays that generate the most positive feedback? I really don’t want you to hear from me. I want you to hear from God!

    The more we are able to acknowledge our weakness, the more we can experience God’s strength, presence and power. And today I feel very weak after a packed week launching Act 2 Productions, so if you benefit from this morning, praise God!!!

    Finally,

    We Must Trust God’s Goodness, Even When Life Is Difficult

    The early church experienced harsh persecution. Think North Korea. Think death and martyrdom. In fact, most of our brothers and sisters around the world today face suffering for their faith much greater than anything we will encounter. Paul wrote to the first Christians:

    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)

    For Paul, it’s all about perspective. Today’s suffering will produce tomorrow’s glory. Olympic athletes experience this every day. No pain, no…gain.

    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)

    Creation has been groaning. Sin impacts our planet and all of its inhabitants, but there’s hope for tomorrow.

    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 were so distraught, so weak, so desperate you didn’t know what to say? I have, and in those moments I’ve often cried out, “Holy Spirit, please groan!” I wish we had time to unpack this more fully, but finally we turn to one of the most used and abused 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)

    This does not say all thing work together for good. It says God works for the good of those who love him. That’s called redemption. No matter what you’re experiencing today, God can use it for his glory. He can turn ashes into beauty. Even better than recycling, he can turn your trash into a treasure.

    I love our friends at Cherry Street Mission. They recently gave a title to many or all of their staff: ministers of redemption. I love that! They partner with God to see lives revitalized.

    I don’t want to make light of any hardship you are facing today, but I want to encourage you to persevere.
    Your story is not over. This chapter might be messy, but turn the page! The world is full of cheap inspirational sayings, but I especially liked Michael Jr.’s quote from the Global Leadership Summit Instagram account this week:

    “Like a slingshot, the further you’ve been set back, the further you can go.”

    We Must Trust God’s Goodness, Even When Life Is Difficult

    God is in control. He has a plan. He has a purpose. He is the God of redemption.

    Tony Campolo has a great sermon he made famous years ago about Holy Week, the death and resurrection of Jesus. I love the title: It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming! There is no greater example of God’s redemption. God’s grace is greater than your circumstances. Today might feel like death and crucifixion but tomorrow may be the day everything changes…for His glory.

    GRACE!

    God’s
    Redemption
    At
    Christ’s
    Expense

    So What?

    We must trust that God is good, even when life is hard. This isn’t easy, but this is where we need one another. We don’t need cheesy cliché’s, but encouragement.

    I am with you. You are not alone.
    I’ll bring over dinner.
    We can watch the kids for you.
    I’m on my way.
    Here’s a small gift.

    God is good…all the time…and he works through his people. Yes, we need to pray for one another, but what else can you do?

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

    Grace is greater than your circumstances. We need to receive grace, experience it, and share it. Life is hard. God is good.

    Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Power: Winds & Waves, 20 August 2017

    Power: Winds & Waves
    Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 4:35-41


    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
     
    Big Idea: Jesus has command over all things—natural and supernatural.
      
    As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious. Mark records several of Jesus’ parables but one lingering question remains…who is Jesus?
     
    As I often say, this may be the most important question for any human to answer. Who is God and who are you? If you ask people today, “Who is Jesus?” you are likely to get a variety of responses: a good teacher, a prophet, a famous figure in history…
     
    In today’s text it’s obvious those closest to Jesus don’t truly realize Jesus is God, Jesus is the Messiah.
      
    That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. (Mark 4:35-36)
     
    Why did Jesus cross the lake? To get to the other side, of course! But seriously, the crowds followed him everywhere and he likely wanted a break, among other things. The departure seems sudden. Perhaps Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here…now!” Jesus is fully human. He is tired. He also has confidence in God that allows him to fall asleep.
     
    A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37-38)
     
    This body of water is beautiful, surrounded by mountains which make it susceptible to sudden storms. This wasn’t just a common thunderstorm, though, but rather a furious squall.
     
    Have you ever been in boat in a storm? It can be pretty scary.
     
    The most violent storm I’ve ever experienced on water was on a cruise ship. I know, poor me! We were in the Caribbean with my extended family and this huge ship was really rocking. I found it relaxing, but then again I was inside, safe, and immune to any seasickness so I was not terribly worried.
     
    I have, however, been in the middle of some serious turbulence on airplanes. Even though I know the odds of a plane crashing due to weather are almost zero, I still find myself scared sometimes when I feel like I’m on a roller coaster…with no track!
     
    These squalls came suddenly so even veteran fishermen could be surprised by them, and there were at least four seasoned fishermen in the group, which makes this story even more significant. They understood the difference between rough weather and deadly storms.
     
    Jesus is exhausted, sleeping on the cushion that was usually placed under the steersman’s seat. It’s a great image Mark includes in his biography. He must’ve really been tired to sleep through this squall. No cushion could be that comfortable in such conditions!
     
    I find the reaction of the disciples to be startling. They wake up their exhausted leader and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Did they think he would teach his way out of the situation? They probably wanted him to help bail water out of the boat before it sank. They certainly had no idea he would respond as he did.
     
    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
     
    He uses the same words he spoke to silence the demons. The original Greek might best be translated, “Put the muzzle on and keep it on!”
     
    In Jewish thought the ocean represented chaos, the unpredictable place where evil originates. In fact, Genesis 1:2 is commonly translated, “Now the earth was formless and empty” but has also been translated, “The earth was chaos.” Only God had authority over chaos. He seized it and created our beautiful world from it. The disciples likely knew only God could control the sea, the chaos, the storm.
     
    He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
     
    “How can you be such cowards? Don’t you have any faith?”
     
    And then what? For all we know, Jesus went back to sleep!
     
    They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
     
    Who is this? Who is Jesus? The answer is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. No magician could do this. It wasn’t the result of a knowledgeable teacher. It certainly wasn’t a coincidence. There is no other explanation: they are in the presence of God!
     
    You may recall Mark began his book with these words:
     
    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)
     
    Jesus did things only God can do. I doubt they thought it at the time, but as they reflected upon this miracle, perhaps Psalm 107:29-30 came to mind:
     
    He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. (Psalm 107:29-30)
     
    Note: other examples of God’s dominion over the waters can be found in Job 26:12-14, Nahum 1:34, Psalm 65:5-7; 74:12-14; 89:8-9; 93:4; 104:5-9.
     
    They knew Jesus had power, but they never imagined this type of power could exist.
     
    Yet their faith remained weak.
     
    You would think it would be enough to see demons exorcised.
    You would think it would be enough to see the sick healed.
    You would think it would be enough to see storms stopped.
     
    People often say, “I would believe in Jesus if I could see him,” but they’re wrong. So many people saw Jesus and witnessed miracles and still dismissed him…or worse.
     
    They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
     
    Who is this? Who is Jesus? I’ve met him, friends! The great song, “My Redeemer Lives,” has this wonderful line which says, “I spoke with him this morning.” Yes! I did. You can. Our faith is not built upon rules and checklists but rather upon a person, a living person, Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God. Through the Holy Spirit he is alive and well on this planet, living inside every one of his followers.
     
    Some have ignored the literal nature of this story, finding the miracle too…supernatural! There were, however, many eyewitnesses to this and Jesus’ other miraculous activities. Mark records various details such as “there were other boats with him” (verse 36) which would be unnecessary if he was simply telling a myth or allegory.
     
    So What?
     
    The most common command in the Bible is…fear not. Fear not. Don’t worry. God is sovereign—he is in control of the supernatural world. He’s also in control of the natural world.
     
    I know, if he can control things why doesn’t he wipe out every evil leader, every bad guy, every hater? I can’t say I always understand, other than the simple fact he is in control but gives us freedom. We’re not angels on assignment, but rather people given choice. He allows us to cherish our blessings or waste them away, pursue him or pursue money, sex and power, to be filled with hate or love, to support life or death. We can even choose to be afraid and worry, but Jesus says it’s a waste of time and energy because he has given us power, authority, and his presence. He is with us. The only one we should fear—and ultimately revere—is Him.
     
    What storms are in your life today?
     
    A stormy marriage? Physical health issues? Depression? You’re not alone.
     
    Struggles with addictions to alcohol, porn, or drugs? You’re not alone.
     
    Same-sex attraction and gender struggles, greed, envy, pride? You’re not alone.
     
    Financial chaos? Job challenges? Broken relationships? You’re not alone.
     
    Grief and loss? Uncertainty about the future? Learning disabilities? You’re not alone.
     
    I say you’re not alone for two reasons. First, you’re not alone in this room. There are people here in the midst of every storm I mentioned. This is why we have been given the gift of family, the opportunity to do life together, to weep when one weeps and to rejoice when one rejoices. We weren’t made to do this thing called life alone.
     
    Second, if you are a follower of Jesus, he is with you. The Holy Spirit is living inside of you and you need only to empty yourself, surrender, confess your sins, and welcome the Spirit to take control of your life. Let go and let God. It may not be an instant cure-all, but raising the white flag is the first step toward truly experiencing the presence and power of God in your life.
     
    In Jesus’ famous Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he sends out his followers to make disciples. But he doesn’t end there. He concludes by saying
     
    And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
     
    He is with us. He can calm the storm. He’s got this…even if his timing may be slower than our timetable.
     
    To quote composer Scott Krippayne, “Sometimes he calms the storm and other times he calms his child.”
     
    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
     
    Jesus may need to say to your storm, “Quiet! Be still!”
     
    Jesus may need to say to you, “Quiet! Be still!”
     
    Credits: some ideas from 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.
  • Elizabeth, 4 December 2016

    Elizabeth
    Series: First Christmas
    Luke 1:46-55

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: God is making life out of the barren places.

    Introduction

    God is making life out of the barren places.

    It happened to Isaac’s parents, Abram and Sarai.
    It happened to Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife.
    It happened to Samuel’s parents, Elkanah and Hannah.
    It happened to John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

    It is still happening today.


    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. Last week we examined the wise men who traveled likely hundreds of miles to meet the Messiah, possibly years after his birth.

    Today’s character is Elizabeth. If you open your Bibles to Luke chapter one you’ll discover the story of Elizabeth. She may be one of the most underrated figures in the Bible. She not only was the mother of John the Baptist, she was old and barren.

    Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7)

    They weren’t just old…both Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old!

    Very old people are usually called grandparents or great grandparents, not mom and dad! How could this be?

    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, did you see the news this week? The tragedy at Ohio State?
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, how are we going to pay off the Visa bill after Christmas?
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, my marriage is a disaster and I feel trapped in misery.
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, I don’t know what to do about these out-of-control children.
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    God, I really want a baby but the doctor says it’ll never happen.
    God is making life out of the barren places.

    Barren

    What do you think of when you hear the word barren? A desert, right?

    Fortunately, we no longer use it to describe women unable to have children. But Elizabeth heard it. She heard it for years. It was likely her label. Barren. “That woman over there…she’s barren. I wonder what she did to make God curse her. What secret sin did she commit?”

    In the culture, the more children, the more worth you had, the more God loved you. But Elizabeth was barren…for decades. Imagine the shame. Imagine the stares. The whispers. But notice Elizabeth is not an evil woman.

    Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7)

    There’s a great story in the Bible that occurs in a barren desert. Actually, the people of Israel spent forty years in the wilderness, a region which contained deserts. On at least two occasions the people complained about having no water to drink.

    Now I think that’s a valid concern, don’t you? “Moses, we’re starving in the desert. We’re going to die out here!” At least twice God provides water for the people. It doesn’t rain. It doesn’t come from a well. No food trucks arrive on the scene with water bottles. In the book of Numbers, it says

    So Moses took the staff from the LORD’S presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (Numbers 20:9-11)

    The original Hebrew word for “gushed” is “rabbim.” It means great and abundant. God didn’t just provide a little bit of water. He gave an abundance.

    One of my favorite verses in the Bible quotes Jesus as saying

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    Jesus came to give abundant, full life. Greater life. Extraordinary life. More.

    Can you think of a time when God provided in abundance?

    For Heather and I, First Alliance Church has been an example of God providing for us abundantly. We could never have imagined a year and a half ago we would be serving alongside so many incredible men, women and children in Glass City. My prayers have been filled with gratitude for His abundant provisions.

    But back to Elizabeth and Zechariah!

    Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. (Luke 1:8-10)

    Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:11-17)

    Zechariah and Elizabeth knew all about Abram and Sarai and their miracle baby, Isaac, born to a 90 year-old mom and a dad who was one hundred years old. So obviously, they were filled with faith and excitement about finally becoming parents, right? No!

    Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

    The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

    That’s one way to keep a priest from preaching long sermons!

    When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:23-25)

    Better late than never, right? Elizabeth’s going to have a baby…but not just any baby. Jesus said of this child

    Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11a)

    Abundance.

    God is making life out of the barren places.

    You might wonder what Elizabeth and John the Baptist have to do with Advent and Jesus.

    In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28)

    Sound familiar? Mary is excited and can’t wait, right?

    Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:29-33)

    “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

    Is this a good question? Absolutely! It’s an honest question. Although the word “but” is not here in the English translation, that’s Mary’s response. “But how can a virgin have a baby?”

    God is making life out of the barren places.

    The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:35-37)

    Here we have two miracle moms. Two miracle babies. Two examples of God making life out of the barren places. Mary appropriately says

    “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)

    Then Mary goes to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home, John the Baptists leaps in the womb when he hears Mary’s voice, and Elizabeth celebrates Mary’s news, leading Mary to say (or sing?)

    And Mary said: 

    “My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    for he has been mindful 
    of the humble state of his servant.
    From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
    His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
    He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
    but has lifted up the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty. 
    He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
    to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” (
    Luke 1:46-55)

    So What?

    God is making life out of the barren places.

    I’m not saying every woman unable to conceive will have a baby in nine months.

    I’m not promising your student loans will be miraculously forgiven next week.

    I can’t even say your troubled marriage is guaranteed to thrive in the new year or that this will be the best Christmas ever.

    But I can say God is making life out of barren places. But it might take time.

    Waiting
    How well do you wait? Waiting is hard in an on-demand world. The microwave can’t cook quickly enough. The fast food order can’t arrive fast enough. The crazy red light can’t turn green soon enough. If my package takes more than two days to arrive at my doorstep…!!!

    Imagine waiting your entire life for something. We do, right? That driver’s license? High school diploma? Spouse? House? Kids?

    Kids. Elizabeth and Zechariah waited decades.

    Could it be that the very things we desire today
    will become reality tomorrow…just not today?

    I’ve prayed for many sick people and seen them healed, but not always instantly.

    I’ve prayed for many broken relationships and seen them healed, but rarely instantly.

    I’ve watch friends overcome addiction and abuse and tragedy, but it took time and work.

    “Here’s the formula for waiting: buckle up, don’t grow weary, do good, don’t give up.”
    • - Harvey & Gilbert, Letting Go

    God IS making life in the barren places. All the time.

    Communion
    There’s one empty, barren place I love. Nobody is certain exactly where it is, but it’s in the Middle East, in Israel. It’s a barren tomb. It once contained a dead body. A body that was placed in the tomb after a brutal death, a death we remember today.

    We celebrate the empty, barren tomb because Jesus is alive! He is risen! He will hear us in three weeks when we sing, “Happy birthday” to him! He is with us know through the Holy Spirit. Best of all, he’s coming back to earth soon. When he does, he will permanently make life out of the barren places of our lives. And until then, we declare Jesus Christ is LORD, Messiah, and King.


    Credits

    Some ideas from SkitGuys.com.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Grief and Loss, 1 May 2016

    Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss
    Series: Go Deeper
    Matthew 26:31-44

  • Series Theme
  • “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

  • The Big Idea: Jesus was a man who expressed His emotions of grief and loss, setting an example for us to follow.

  • Introduction

    We’re in the middle of a series entitled Go Deeper. Our lives are like an iceberg. We expose only a small portion of our real selves to others. Some of us live in denial about that which we know is true beneath the surface. Perhaps another way to say, “Go Deeper” is to say, “get real.” Get honest. Until we face reality, we will never be able to heal from the pain, overcome the addiction, or strengthen the weakness.

    Last week we talked about how we can’t avoid trials. In this life, we will and do have trouble. We want to go over, under, or around but we must journey through the wall. Despite the courage involved, there are benefits to testing.

    - God uses trials so we will look out…to others.

    The book of Romans plainly says

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

    We are to

    Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

    In addition,

    - God uses trials so we will look up…to Him. He is with us…always. That’s a promise.

    At the Wall, God asks some tough questions.

    “What would you do without Me?”
    “What will you do without My blessings?”
    “Will you continue to seek Me?”
    “Will you seek the ‘Other’ instead?”

    At the Wall we learn a single truth that gets burned into us: life isn’t about us; it’s about God and His glory.

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

    On the Other Side of the Wall

    The Wall always changes us. We can be bitter…or better. The Wall offers us an opportunity to move

    - From pride to brokenness and humility
    - From pleasure to appreciation and contentment
    - From impatience to patience, able to wait for God
    - From more to enough
    - From immaturity to maturity

    Grief & Loss

    When we get to the other side of The Wall, it’s tempting to ignore the grief and loss that often accompany such a journey. Adrian Rogers said that everything in life relates to sin, sorrow and death. How cheery! How true.

    Loss

    All of life is about loss. We lose the safety of our mother’s womb, youth, dreams, control, illusions, and ultimately our health.

    Grief and loss are done differently in various cultures and families.

    Two-thirds of the Psalms deal with grief. They are called laments. The books of Job and Lamentations are also filled with grief and loss.

    Scripture has been called the music of God. Here’s one famous passage:

    There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

    Perhaps you were told, “Big boys don’t cry.” Maybe you heard the message emotions should not be expressed. Those are clearly not biblical ideas. Perhaps nobody demonstrated His feelings—especially grief—like Jesus.

    Matthew 26:36-46

    I think many people find themselves in the midst of suffering and wonder where they can find God, how God could possibly understand their circumstances, how He could just watch those He says He loves go through such pain and agony. He understands…and He is with us…always.

    Jesus’ followers were shocked to see the Messiah suffer, but His agony was prophesied centuries earlier. The prophet Isaiah said:

    He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

    That’s our God! He is familiar with grief and suffering, loss and pain. One of the most vivid examples is found in the Garden of Gethsemane, a place you can visit today in Jerusalem.

    Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38)

    Jesus knows sorrow.

    Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

    He pleads for Plan B. He wants to go over, under, or around this Wall. Luke records this moment by saying

    And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

    Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

    Last week we noted the value of community, of support, of family. What do you do when those you need most aren’t there for you in your moment of greatest need?

    He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

    He asks again for Plan B!

    When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:43-44)

    Three times He begs the Father for a shortcut, for another path. He’s all alone. Can you imagine?

    Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45-46)

    Jesus is depressed, distressed, and sorrowful. Can you relate? The book of Hebrews says:

    During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

    In the Garden Jesus falls to His face to the ground. He is prostrate on the ground. His sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He is experiencing loss, preparing for the loss of His life and, even worse, the loss of His connection to the Father. He will become sin, taking our sins upon Himself. He will bear the wrath and judgment of a holy God. He will lose his friend Judas. He will lose the support of His followers who will abandon Him. His creation will crucify Him…all in the name of God!

    This is not an attractive image of the King of kings and LORD of lords!

    One element of the Scriptures that lends to their credibility is the raw, honest portrayals of the “heroes” of the Bible. The writers are never afraid to tell it like it is, warts and all!

    This is not happy, successful, popular, wealthy Jesus!

    This is our perfect model of what it means to be fully human.

    Reactions To Pain

    Divorce, death, breakups, failures, disappointments, shattered dreams, painful memories, and other forms of grief and loss invade our lives. Common reactions/defenses to grief and loss include

    - denial
    - minimizing (admitting something is wrong, but not acknowledging its impact)
    - blaming others (or God)
    - blaming yourself
    - rationalizing (offering excuses and justifications)
    - intellectualizing (analysis and theories to avoid personal awareness/feelings)
    - distracting
    - becoming hostile
    - medicating

    Many bury their pain of grief with addictions that are followed by guilt and shame as we lose control. It’s just like satan to tempt us into something, only to turn around and accuse us of the very action!

    PTSD

    These four letters together were not recognized until 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association added Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the third of edition of its manual of mental disorders. Grief and loss—especially if not processed appropriately—can wreak havoc in our lives. Traumatic events can impact us beyond our ability to cope…and affect us long after the experience.

    Biblical Grieving

    I want to offer a few suggestions to those of you who are grieving.

    Pay attention

    Don’t live in denial. Jesus was very real in the Garden. He held nothing back. His emotional burden was so great it had physical manifestations as He sweat drops of blood.

    Wait in the confusing in-between (Ps. 37:7)

    No matter what grief and loss you may be experiencing today, tomorrow is a new day. The story is not over. It’s SO hard to wait—for anything—but we can take hope knowing God is in control.

    Embrace the gift of limits

    In addition to loss, we are faced with limits in our life. Limits in our life include

    • - physical body
    • - family of origin
    • - marital status
    • - intellectual capacity
    • - talents and gifts
    • - material wealth
    • - educational opportunities
    • - raw material (personality, temperament)
    • - time
    • - work
    • - relationship realities
    • - spiritual understanding
    • - ministry

    Many of us find limits frustrating, but they are part of God’s plan. They cause us to rely upon Him. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” God refused to remove. Undoubtedly it was to keep him on his knees, dependent upon God. Remember, life is not about us, it’s about God’s glory. When we are weak, He is strong and gets the glory.

    Climb the ladder of humility

    The word humility comes from the Latin humus which means “of the earth.”

    In the sixth century, St. Benedict introduced the idea of a twelve-step ladder for growing in the grace of humility. Here’s a modified version of it:

    Step 8: Transformation into the Love of God (no sarcasm, arrogance; content)
    Step 7: Speaking Less (“The wise are known for their few words”)
    Step 6: Deeply Aware of Being “Chief of All Sinners” (recognize our sinfulness)
    Step 5: Radical Honesty to Others About Your Weaknesses/Faults (quit pretending)
    Step 4: Patience To Accept The Difficulty of Others
    Step 3: Willing To Subject Ourselves To The Direction of Others (surrender power)
    Step 2: Doing God’s Will (not your own or that of others)
    Step 1: Fear of God and Mindfulness of Him (He is present)

    Where are you at today? I’m working on Step 1! Humility is a rare virtue. Most of us struggle with pride, manifested through arrogance or insecurity. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. When our focus is on Jesus, we don’t have to impress others, mask our emotions, or fear failure. We don’t even have to be “successful” in the eyes of the world. We simply have to be obedient and faithful to God, His Word, and His will.

    Listening To The Interruption

    Jesus doesn’t deny his grief. Why do so many Christians?

    Jesus is real and authentic. He feels. He expresses His emotions.

    He listens to the interruptions of His life.

    Have you ever felt so bad that you could just die? That’s how Jesus felt.

    This passage is difficult for some people who want Jesus the superhero. For the rest of us, it is reassuring that He understands our struggles and trials and agony.

    It is human to feel and hurt. Jesus understands…and He is with us through the Holy Spirit.

    Resurrection

    The beauty of dying to ourselves is the opportunity to be resurrected in Christ. This is beautifully illustrated in the water grave of baptism.

    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)

    We continue to celebrate the Resurrection, not merely one day of the year but every day. Jesus’ story did not end in the garden or on the cross. Death always precedes resurrection and new life.

    Learning To Fall

    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. (John 12:24)

    The trash of the grief may smell, but there are diamonds in the mess that God can use.

    When we listen to the interruption and learn to fall, our souls will enlarge.

    a. our self-will breaks

    Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)

    Jesus had a human will. He was fully God but also fully human. His humanity did not want to obey the Father. He did not naturally obey the Father. He wanted out. He submitted His will to the Father’s will.

    Jesus prayed three times for the Father’s will.

    You learn obedience through the struggle of grief.

    You lose control at the wall (last week’s message).

    Life is more than a series of problems we need to solve. Life is a mystery.

    b. we learn about prayer

    Prayer is the center of our life with Christ. David, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus grieved with God through prayer.

    c. we create space for God

    In emptying ourselves, we make room for more of God. When we give up control, we can lean into God.

    Questions for Discussion

    What does this text tell us about God?

    What does this text tell us about ourselves?

    What significant losses/disappointments did you experience

    • - when you were age 3-12?
    • - as a teenager?
    • - as a young adult?
    • - as an adult?

    How did you respond to each?

    How did your family deal with grief and loss when you were growing up?

    Share one recent loss in your life. How has it affected you?

    After leaving everything to follow Jesus, how did Peter react to Jesus’ shocking prediction in Matthew 26:31-36?

    What are some of the reasons that Jesus is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” in Matthew 26:38-44?

    How does He deal with grief and loss?

    Which of the common defenses do you use to protect yourself from grief and loss?

    The central message of Christianity is that death and suffering bring resurrection and new life. How have you experienced this? Be specific.

  • Credits and Stuff

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

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

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

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Journey Through The Wall, 24 April 2016

    Journey Through The Wall
    Series: Go Deeper
    Genesis 22:1-14

    Series Theme
    “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

    The Big Idea: The third pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is journey through the wall and know it’s all about Jesus.

    Introduction

    This morning I’d like to take you on a journey. It’s a familiar journey for some of you. It goes like this:

    We're goin' on a bear hunt,
    We're going to catch a big one,
    I'm not scared
    What a beautiful day!
    Oh look! It's some long, wavy grass!
    Can't go over it,
    Can't go under it,
    Can't go around it,
    Got to go through it!

    We’re not actually hunting bears today, but we are talking about encountering a wall we cannot go over, under, or around. We must journey through the wall.

    There are many types of walls but they all usually lead to one question:
    Why?

    Today we continue our series Go Deeper: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. We have said our lives are like an iceberg. There is more beneath the surface than we allow others to see…or sometimes even acknowledge ourselves. We’re all messed up because we live in a fallen, sin-filled world. You are messed up. I’m messed up. In fact, if you don’t think you’re messed up, you’re the most messed up!

    Tragically, many people live their lives in denial…of their weaknesses, their family of origin, pain from their past, or their own emotions. God created us with both thoughts and feelings. We have both a mind and a heart. To live in denial is to prevent growth and change. To get real about our stuff is the first step toward healing and wholeness.

    Let me say again we all have stuff. For some reason there are acceptable and unacceptable things in the church. For instance, addiction to alcohol is bad, but addiction to applause and compliments is generally acceptable, perhaps because it’s often hidden. Cursing is bad, but gossiping through prayer requests is not only acceptable, it is encouraged in some circles. A family with a history of divorce is bad, but generations of religious, self-righteous people is sometimes admired, even though Jesus directed most of His criticism at the religious leaders of His day who stood in judgment of the “sinners.”

    I mentioned the propensity of some to wear masks. We may wear holiness masks so others will think we’re more spiritual than we really are. Another thing some mask is their emotions. I remember a certain Christian DJ who seemed to talk about tragedy in her life and then dismiss it with something like “all things work together for good so I’m just happy! Praise the Lord.” She was not real.

    Let me just say it: life is hard. It was hard for Jesus. It’s hard for us.

    Where did we get the idea we should be happy, happy, happy? Jesus said

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

    The Wall

    The Wall appears through a crisis. When we hit the Wall, we cry out “God – Where are You?”

    It’s ok to ask God questions. It’s ok to have doubts. It’s ok to ask, “Why?” God can handle it!

    David cried out to God for years when Saul and his men pursued him, and he was forced to hide in caves (see Psalms 69, 70, 71 and others).

    Consider Job. Satan challenged God to take away Job’s wealth, animals, children, and good health, all as a way to see if Job would continue to be upright. At first, Job cries out to God, but God does not answer right away (Job 13: 20-26). Eventually, God speaks up and Job repents and relents (Job 42:1-6).

    Abraham: Genesis 22:1-15

    After looking at Saul and David, today’s character is Abraham.

    Abraham had his share of Walls in his life. He was asked to leave his family and travel to an unknown land. He arrived and encountered a famine, had a conflict with his nephew Lot, his wife was unable to have children, he bounced off that wall and had a son with his wife’s servant.

    At age 110 he hit another wall. His promised son was finally born and then God asks him to do the unthinkable.

    Genesis 22...

    Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied.

    Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

    God does not tempt, but tests Abraham to confirm his faith and prove his commitment.

    This seems so bizarre to us, yet in that day child sacrifices were commonly offered to pagan gods.

    Tragically, 1/3 of my generation has been killed, but that’s another issue for another time.

    Mount Moriah is now the covered with the Dome of the Rock in Israel, a Muslim structure.

    Abraham faces a Wall, a test that he causes a crisis of faith.


    Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

    Imagine that journey!

    Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

    “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

    “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

    Good question!

    Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

    When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied.

    “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

    Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:1-14)

    God tested Abraham.
    God allowed Job to be tested.
    God often allows trials and testing in our lives…for two purposes

    1. His glory
    2. Our growth

    This past week I was at the C&MA Great Lakes District Conference and Rev. Thomas George, our District Superintendent, reminded us of three things:

    1. We were made by God
    2. We were made for God
    3. We were made for God’s glory


    Our consumeristic culture says it’s all about us.

    The Bible says it’s all about God. This is a very difficult message for us to grasp. Just to prove this, one of our worship songs was critiqued. It says, “The God of angel armies is always on my side.” While there may be a way to understand this correctly, our natural response is to be comforted knowing God is always on our side…but He’s not! He never makes that promise. He promises to love us, but it’s not about Him being on our side. He asks us to be on His side. It’s about His will, not ours. It’s about His plan, not ours. It’s about His glory, not ours.

    Sometimes this means we find ourselves in very difficult places, asked to sacrifice a child, fleeing those who are supposed to be supporting us, suffering for doing good, or experiencing horrific pain despite seeking to follow Jesus.

    Rachel Video

    You can find Rachel's blog at
    https://myelephantsintheroom.wordpress.com

    Get Real!

    I urge you, family, to be real. There’s no shame in suffering. There’s no shame in feeling. There’s no shame in discouragement, depression, disappointment…or even doubting God. It’s His clear will for us to do life together. We need one another, especially when we face the wall. We need prayer, encouragement, and often tangible assistance from others. We’re often too proud to admit it but all need help sometimes, if not always!

    One of the most sobering verses in the Bible is found in Hebrews 11. After commending many great characters such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, it says

    All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

    Conclusion

    Like you, when I face the wall my flesh wants to go over it, under it, or around it. The only way God gets glory and we grow is when we go through it, not alone but with His strength and the help of others.

    One of the best tools we have at First Alliance is prayer. We have prayer in small groups, Bible studies, and Sunday School. We also have men’s prayer here on Tuesdays at 8:30 AM and Wednesdays at 7 PM. We have women’s prayer Wednesdays at 6 PM. We have open prayer Thursdays at 7 PM.

    There’s power in prayer. There’s freedom in sharing your Wall with others. There’s joy in bearing the burdens of others. We weren’t made to do this alone. We were created to journey with one another and with God…for His glory. He is here, whether it feels like it or not. He can be trusted, even when life doesn’t make sense. He loves you—really—and He is a mighty fortress.

    Questions for Discussion

    Are you “stuck” at the Wall? Have you been at the Wall some time before? Has someone you know and love been at the Wall?

    What is it like?

    What have you learned? What have you rejected?

    Has it been difficult connecting with God and seeing His purposes for you?

    How can we help people who are struggling at the Wall?

    What does this text tell us about God?

    What does this text tell us about ourselves?

    Credits and Stuff

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

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

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

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Somebody's Watching You! 22 November 2015

    Note: This message is similar to one preached at Scio Community Church, September 27, 2015.
    Somebody’s Watching You!
    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.

    Introduction

    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. 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!

    Credits

    Some ideas from

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

    Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

    1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

    A Living Hope, 1 November 2015

    Note: This message is similar to one preached at Scio Community Church, September 6, 2015.

    A Living Hope
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 1:1-12

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

    Big Idea: Suffering is real but temporary. Salvation and hope are real and eternal.

    Prelude Comments

    Good morning, First Alliance! Before we dive into our sermon, I want to begin with a simple question: why are you here?

    There are many good answers to this question, but I hope above the social benefits, the music team, serving others, and even communion is a desire to deepen your relationship with God in order to become a disciple of Jesus.

    I was challenged several years ago by a friend who wondered whether or not discipleship occurs at all during the Sunday morning worship gathering. Since our mission is essentially to make disciples, I hope so!

    As we open God’s Word, the Bible, together, I want to preach not merely for the sake of conveying information, and not even for inspiration, but ultimately for transformation. I can’t do that, but the Holy Spirit can take the scriptures and activate them in our lives.

    May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. – Psalm 19:14

    Introduction

    What in the world is going on?

    Does it seem like society has gone insane?

    • - We can kill babies and sell their parts but go crazy if a lion is shot
    • - It’s ok to smoke weed but not cigarettes.
    • - Ashley Madison says “Life is short. Have an affair.”
    • - Bush might run against Clinton for president!
    • - Women now have wives and men can have a husband.
    • - The worldwide movement of Jesus based upon love is known for hate.
    • - We are to be tolerant of everything yet offended by everything.

    There are many reasons why we are alarmed, worried, depressed, and fearful about our world. We are exposed to more “bad news” than ever before, bombarded by media outlets virtually everywhere. Cultural Christianity has been in decline for years, something I celebrate while others mourn. As a result, the influence—power—once possessed by Christians seems to be waning.

    If you feel even a little afraid, if you find yourself in the minority, the underdog, you’re not alone. For thousands of years, God-fearers have faced opposition and persecution. Throughout our lifetimes our brothers and sisters in Christ have suffered unimaginable agony for their faith. What’s unique is our so-called “Christian nation” appears to be less Christian each day.

    It is my prayer that the next several weeks will provide you with hope, encouragement, and peace as we examine a letter from Peter to early Christians exiled.

    Context

    Before we begin in 1 Peter, I want to offer a quick lesson in hermeneutics, a fancy words for studying the Bible. It may sound simple: read and apply. The challenge comes in understanding the context. There are three steps:

    1. 1. What did it mean originally?
    2. 2. What does it mean today?
    3. 3. How can I apply it today?

    People are quick to quote a verse without understanding the context, often deriving a very different message than the author’s intent.

    The book of 1 Peter begins

    Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 1:1a)

    This is Peter, also known as Simon. He’s the one who denied Christ three times, the one who walked on the Sea of Galilee, one of Jesus’ three closest friends. Catholics look to him as the first Pope. His name means “rock.” Peter and Paul were the primary leaders of the early Church. He writes this letter around the year 63, around the time Paul was martyred and not long before Peter himself would die for his faith. He’s most likely writing from Babylon.

    To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: (1 Peter 1:1b-2a)

    To God’s elect. This phrase has prompted great discussion. Do we choose God or does God choose us? To be “elect” is to receive God’s grace. He initiates. We love Him because He first loved us.

    This word “exiles” is often translated “strangers” or “resident aliens” or “sojourners.” In chapter two they will be referred to as “pilgrims.” Like us, they were citizens of heaven through faith in Jesus (Philippians 3:20), in the world but not of it (John 17:16). They are temporary residents. As strangers, they were considered strange by many, a scattered (diaspora) people in five different parts of the Roman Empire in what we now know as Turkey.

    Paul wrote to Gentiles, Peter to a Jewish audience.

    Have you ever been a stranger somewhere? How did it feel?

    Today is my third day living in Ohio. I feel like an alien! The First Alliance family has graciously welcomed me and my family, but I’m just beginning to understand my new surroundings, my new city, my new state, my new church family…

    We are so excited to be here despite being in unfamiliar territory.

    Our situation is far different than the recipients of this short letter.

    As we will see, Peter addresses these scattered strangers and acknowledges their suffering, at least fifteen times with eight different Greek words! Each time it is tied to hope. We have all experienced suffering in one form or another, though few to the extent of the first Christians. This is not persecution from someone calling you a name or even losing your job because you wanted to honor God above an unbelieving boss. A “fiery trial” was coming, persecution from the Roman Empire. Think ISIS or Boco Harum.

    What do you say to someone who is suffering?
    What do you say to someone who is about to experience suffering?

    The thing about suffering is we’re all coming out of suffering, in the midst of suffering, or about to experience suffering. It’s a part of the broken, human condition in this life.

    Note God has a plan. He knows what He’s doing. God has foreknowledge. He knows the plan. He is omniscient—He knows everything!

    Sanctification: we are set apart, becoming like Jesus, bearing the fruit of the Spirit. We are not to be spiritual infants but grow to maturity as we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is not merely something after conversion but rather three dimensions: separation from sin, growing in holiness throughout life, and “the final act of God when He makes his holy people completely holy for eternity.” (Scot McKnight) The electing work of God leads to the conversion of these disenfranchised sojourners of Asia Minor.

    The blood of Jesus is also present. You can’t make too much of the blood of Christ. We remember it through communion. Blood is life! In the Old Testament, the blood of animals was used in sacrifices. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. Do you obey Jesus? Do you do what He wants? That’s making Him LORD. Note here the Trinity is in view, one God in three Persons, Father, Son and Spirit.

    Peter continues…

    Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:2b)

    Grace is a customary Greco-Roman greeting and peace is a Jewish greeting. Peter uses the word grace in every chapter of this letter. Grace is unmerited favor. When we depend upon God’s grace, we can glorify Him in suffering, turning trials into triumphs. Peace comes when we have assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. In the midst of persecution we can have a true hope of future glory and blessing.

    Peter continues in what is essentially a ten-verse run-on sentence!
     
    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    This word “praise” is never used with regard to man, only God. We are to praise God the Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    We don’t “hope so,” but instead we have a living hope. It is our resurrected LORD. It rests upon Jesus’ blood. A body without blood is dead. He died so we might live.

    Scot McKnight writes, “It is not so much that believers are now living “full of hope,” but that they have a fixed “hope,” a clear vision of what God will do for them in the future.”

    Where John spoke of love and Paul faith, hope is a common theme in Peter’s messages. Warren Wiersbe said,

    “Hope is not a sedative; it is a shot of adrenaline, a blood transfusion. Like an anchor, our hope in Christ stabilizes us in the storms of life (Hebrews 6:18-19), but unlike an anchor, our hope moves us forward, it does not hold us back.”

    Our inheritance cannot be lost like cash, stocks, car keys, or cell phones. It is in heaven. It is indestructible.

    We are kept by the power of God through faith. A Scottish man had one word on his tombstone: kept.

    In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6)

    Some believe verse six is the key of the epistle. Jesus and James and Paul said we will have trials and troubles. Life is hard. We can rejoice, though, not because we have trials but because we have salvation. We have hope. Trials are temporary. This life is so short. Paul said

    For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

    Unbroken film: Louis "Louie" Zamperini

    These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

    Faith is precious.
    Trials have a purpose.

    God puts us into a furnace not to destroy us but to refine us.

    When we see Jesus, we will thank God for our trials.

    “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

    Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

    Peter had seen Him and lived with Him for three years. These people have not seen Jesus…but they love Him. We have not seen Jesus. Do you love Jesus?

    The writer of Hebrews said

    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

    Now the final three verses for today:

    Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:10-12)


    The Old Testament prophets wrote by the Spirit of Christ.

    Angels are real! They would love to make an announcement as Gabriel did. Angels are great, but we have the Holy Spirit which is even better. Angels are mentioned to remind us of the privileges of salvation. Neither angels nor the prophets experience what we assume and enjoy as followers of Jesus today.

    So What?

    Increasingly followers of Jesus in our culture are becoming the minority (if we ever were in the majority). In a world of pluralism, it is radical to claim Jesus as the One Way to the Father (though Jesus said those very words). In a world of consumerism, it is radical to be generous. In a world of tolerance, it is radical to exhibit true love.

    When we respond to God’s invitation to follow Him, we are to live for Him, not ourselves. We are to maintain the course of a loving, holy lifestyle, and find our identity in being part of God’s family, God’s elect, the church, not in being part of a society that does not accept us.

    Are you first and foremost an American or a child of God?

    This life is short and will soon end. It is filled with trials and suffering…but we have a great hope for eternity. We have salvation. We have Christ.

    Credits

    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 Wiersbe

    Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

    1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

    Witness: Woman of Sorrow, 04 January 2015

    Big Idea: Mary experienced great joy as a mom…and great sorrow.

    Key Scripture: John 2:1-11; Mark 3:20-35; John 19:25

    Introduction

    Happy 2015! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. The highlight for me was undoubtedly spending nearly a week with our entire family that now resides again in three different states.

    Many churches today are talking about the new year, resolutions, goal setting, and ways to have your best life now. I’m deliberately avoiding the temptation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my desire to finish what we started with regard to Mary. As I said last Sunday, we can’t just throw her in the attic with the nativity set until next year. While her most significant moment may have been Jesus’ birthday, labor and delivery is the beginning, not the end of motherhood. We looked at Mary the mom last week as she brought Jesus to the temple for dedication where they were blessed by Simeon.

    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)

    In full disclosure, I’m not a mom! I’ve never been a mom…and I never plan on becoming a mom! I am, however, a parent. Nothing in life has been more challenging for me—or more rewarding—than being a parent. I’ve experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. I’ve felt every conceivable emotion and been impacted physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially, and relationally by parenting three incredible humans.

    I believe love is the reason parenting is so significant. Love involved risk, and the more you risk, the greater the joy and the greater the sorrow. During lunch on New Year’s Day, Heather and I were reflecting on our parenting journey and how it has taken us through tragedy and triumph, horror and happiness. She asked if I’d do it again if I could turn back time and I said absolutely though nothing could prepare me for all of the challenges. Perhaps nothing has shaped me into the man I am today more than being a parent.

    Today I want to look at a few final moments in Mary’s motherhood adventure.

    The First Miracle

    Jesus began His public ministry by making wine. We often miss Mary in this story.

    On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” (John 2:1-3)

    Remember, children were to honor their parents according to the fifth commandment (which I believe is still relevant today!).

    “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
    (John 2:4)

    “Woman” could also be understood as “mother.” “My hour” was a reference to the crucifixion. Note Jesus does nothing until Mary directs the servants to obey Him.

    His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

    Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

    Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

    Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

    They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:5-10)

    What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

    This wedding began a public shift in Mary’s life. Imagine her joy! Talk about a proud mama! She would learn to be obedient to her Son. He was the One before whom she was to have no other gods. Honoring God meant following her own Son while surrendering her own honor.

    Scot McKnight says, “If Jesus alone knew God’s will, then the only ones who knew God’s will were the ones to whom Jesus revealed that will. For Mary to know and do God’s will, she would have to follow Jesus. Her honor would have to surrender to his honor. Jesus’ words were subtle, and they pierced Mary’s heart. She would have to allow her son to become her Lord. This interchange between Mary and Jesus is nothing short of stunning…Because Mary directed the servants to do as Jesus said and because the servants obeyed, Jesus converted six thirty-gallon jars of water into the best wine yet served at that wedding.”

    This was only the beginning.

    Abandonment?

    Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

    Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

    “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

    Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

    “Thanks a lot, Son! Your mission is more important than your mom?!” Was this the sword Simeon said would pierce Mary’s heart?

    Sometimes honoring God and honoring your father and mother come into conflict with one another. Of course, in our western culture, honor is a word rarely spoken. We focus on our own rights rather than selflessly honoring others. The Jewish priorities were God, parents, family, society…and lastly one’s self.

    Mary and her other children were ambivalent about Jesus, perhaps much of the time. They expected the Messiah to be a prophet like Moses, like ancient prophets, a descendant of David, and a reigning King combining the glory of David with the wisdom of Solomon. He would be powerful, ruling over all governments and peoples. He would restore Israel, establish peace, righteousness, and holiness.

    Jesus didn’t fit their expectations…and the most unimaginable was yet to come.

    The Cross

    I have heard the worst experience on earth is losing a child. I was reminded of this a few days ago as I heard the wails of a grieving mom whose child died. My mind raced to Mary’s agony watching her Son die. She not only witnessed the loss of her Son, but also her Savior, her Messiah, her hope.

    Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25)

    About fifty percent of the first century Jewish women were named Mary!

    She was near the cross (all of the males fled except for John!). She saw it all. She remained faithful to Him. A sword pierced the side of Jesus…as Mary’s heart was pierced.

    Anglican poet G.A. Studdert Kennedy said:

    She claims no crown from Christ apart,
    Who gave God life and limb,
    She only claims a broken heart,
    Because of Him.

    Are you near the cross? Has your heart been pierced?

    The Rest of the Story

    Mary does not vanish at Calvary. In the Upper Room following Jesus’ ascension into heaven we are told of the early followers of Jesus.

    They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

    She no doubt had a tremendous role in the early church, including the telling of stories that we now read in the Gospel biographies of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. She was an eyewitness to His birth, life and death.

    One More Appearance?

    Mary may appear one final time in the Bible…in Revelation 12. Look it up! It may refer to Mary and/or the People of God and/or Israel and/or the Church.

    So What?

    May surrendered to her Son. Family is important, but obeying and glorifying God the Father is most important. We are to love our children and honor our parents, but even family can become an idol, a god.

    Jesus revealed a new family in which His brothers and sisters and mother are those who do God’s will.

    Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

    Mary is not a perfect example, but a real example of someone who trusted God and surrendered to His will, a real human with a real faith in the real world.

    “Do whatever He tells you” is the motto and mantra of Jesus’ family.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Traveler: Woman of Perseverance, 14 December 2014

    Big Idea: Mary persevered through not only a difficult journey to Bethlehem but a life of trials and suffering.

    Key Scripture: Luke 2:1-5

    Introduction

    Do you like to travel? What is the greatest place you’ve ever visited? Where would you most like to go?

    I love to travel. I’m fascinated with humans, especially those from other cultures. The sites, smells, tastes, and sounds of Israel are so different from South Korea, Toronto, and London (to say nothing of Columbus, Ohio!).

    I used to love flying. I still do, but since 9/11 TSA can be a hassle…and don’t get me started on fees for checking in bags, fees for carrying on bags, fees for reserving a seat, etc. Soon we’ll have to pay to use the toilet!

    The journey is important, but unless you’re on a cruise ship, you don’t travel for the journey as much as the destination. Business travel is much different than pleasure. Staying with family can be different than being in a hotel. A family adventure is different than a solo excursion. I once heard someone say a trip is with kids and a vacation is without kids!

    Are you traveling for the holidays? Where?

    Traveling can be one of the most stressful parts of the holidays—or one of the most gratifying. Strange relatives, icy roads, and uncomfortable bedding can make things challenging while joyous reunions, great food, and special gifts can make the journey worthwhile.

    We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born. I estimate there is a 1 in 365 chance He was born on December 25! We do know His birth followed a trip—from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a trip that must’ve been difficult for Joseph…and even more for Mary.

    In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
    (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

    Was this trip business or pleasure? It was certainly not pleasure! Caesar issued a census. Every ten years the United States has a census that helps obtain information about who lives in our country. It’s a simple form typically sent via mail and returned the same way. In the future, I’m sure it will be done online.

    Mary and Joseph were not as fortunate. They had to travel to complete the census mandated by Caesar Augustus (which means “exalted”), possibly the greatest Roman emperor. He instituted a republic form of government, expanded the empire to include the entire Mediterranean world, and led during the golden age of architecture and literature.

    The census was used for taxation and military services, though Jews were exempt from Roman military service. So they traveled to pay a tax. What fun!

    It’s amazing how God could use a pagan leader to bring Jesus to Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah 5:2…

    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

    I love seeing Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament!

    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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)

    You’ve no doubt heard of Nazareth and Bethlehem, but where are they? It was about 80 miles—at least a three-day trip from Nazareth to the birthplace of David…and Jesus! That’s about from Ann Arbor to Frankenmuth.

    There is much we don’t know about the journey to Bethlehem, but it certainly required perseverance. It would’ve been less of a pain if they simply had to load up the car, make the drive, register, and return home but, of course, they didn’t have a car. We don’t know if they walked or used an animal (a donkey is usually depicted in illustrated Bibles). Carpenters often had a donkey to carry pieces of wood and tools so perhaps Mary didn’t have to walk, but it was not as simple as running up to the drug store and back.

    Traveling such a distance without an SUV with GPS and a DVD player would be long, tiring, and potentially even dangerous. You think our roads are bad? Imagine a rocky, hilly path that would make our dirt roads feel like glass.

    Are we there yet?!

    It wasn’t just a stroll down the street. Keep in mind, too, several days of travel meant several nights of sleep—either camping or from hospitable Jews along the way.

    Women 12 years of age and older had to register for the poll tax so Mary had to travel (she was obviously at least 12 years of age). She was from the house of David. Even if Mary rode a donkey, eight-plus months pregnant—simply to register for the census—must’ve been grueling. Not that Mary had a choice! Nevertheless this is but one example of Mary’s perseverance.

    So What?

    We don’t know Mary’s attitude toward the journey, but it seems likely she accepted her fate and saw this as just one of the many hardships related to bringing the Messiah into the world. Her song, the Magnificat—which we looked at last week—praised God despite the countless trials she would experience as the mom of Jesus. She was a woman of great perseverance. Her pregnancy was a social catastrophe. She became a young mom. She later experienced disappointment and even witnessed the death of her son. Yet she persevered. She endured countless trials—as did her boy.

    There are two ways we can look at trials: we can
    groan or grow.

    We are a spoiled, pampered people in this nation. We complain at the slightest sign of adversity, expecting to be safe and comfortable 24/7. We are told it is our right to pursue happiness. Jesus had a different message:

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

    That’s a promise—we will have trouble! As I’ve often remarked, I’m among the wealthiest 1% on the planet (not the USA, but the world!). You may be, too. Regardless of who you are or where you were born, you will encounter troubles because this world is broken and filled with sin.

    We will have trouble, but don’t miss the second promise: Emmanuel—God with us. He is always with us…and He has overcome the world.

    I’m both challenged and encouraged by these words from the book of Romans:

    He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25)

    Therefore, since we have been justified
    through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

    Recently I heard the incredible testimony of former mobster Michael Franzese. He said he has experienced every conceivable emotion but one is far worse than the others—hopelessness.

    It seems odd that suffering would lead to hope, but that’s often the result.

    I’ve been amazed at one recent amputee and her attitude of gratitude for a surgery that took her leg (http://myelephantsintheroom.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/why-i-am-grateful-for-my-amputation/). If she can be grateful…

    During these final days of Christmas chaos I encourage you to count your blessings and seek God’s will and purposes in your sufferings and stress. Every day is filled with things that we can complain about and things we can celebrate. God is still sovereign and in control. He is still on the throne. Mary persevered through much because she continually trusted God rather than feeling sorry for herself. The journey to Bethlehem is but one small example of the things she endured for the purpose of bringing honor and glory to God.

    "Sometimes we think to ourselves, “I’m being obedient, so why aren’t things going better?” We face discomfort or inconvenience and immediately think either that we have misread God’s will or that God has made a mistake. But watch this quiet couple as they head toward Bethlehem. God did not soften Joseph’s bumpy road, but strengthened him. God did not provide a luxurious inn for Joseph and Mary, but brought his Son into the world in humble surroundings. When we do God’s will, we are not guaranteed comfort and convenience. But we are promised that everything, even discomfort and inconvenience, has meaning in God’s plan. He will guide you and provide all you need. Like Joseph, live each day by faith, trusting that God is in charge."

    - Life Application Study Bible, Luke 2:4-5

    May God be glorified in not only our praise and worship in the midst of blessings but also the way in which we suffer and persevere. This world is temporary and the best is yet to come.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Habakkuk, 2 November 2014

    Big Idea: We don’t always understand God and His timing, but He can be trusted.

    Introduction

    Today we examine our bonus eleventh book in our series The Most Unread Books of the Bible, based upon the ten least-read books on BibleGateway.com.

    Time

    Timing in life is vitally important. Photographers long for the perfect timing of an event to capture it forever. Runners and other speed racers can win or lose a race by 1/1000 of a second. I used to think I was a patient person, but I find myself frustrated at the brief delays in my life caused by red lights, slow microwaves (!), and seasons of life, both literal and figurative (unless it’s spring or summer!). God’s timing is perfect because He is perfect, He is sovereign and in control. Daddy knows best.

    Sometimes we feel like God is sleeping or even a myth because He usually doesn’t respond to our prayers on demand. We want it now! Have you ever prayed, “LORD, heal them tomorrow” or “Please give me a new job next year”? We assume we know best and God should obey our every command. Fortunately He doesn’t! He has bigger plans and ideas…if we only trust Him.

    Background

    This is the only book in which the name Habakkuk appears. His name means to embrace or wrestle with God. He likely lived around 600 BC. He lived during Judah’s final days and Babylon’s domination.

    Chapter 1: Wrestling. Why?

    The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. (Habakkuk 1:1)

    This word oracle in the original Hebrew language,
    mas-saw’, meant an utterance, a doom, or a burden. Habakkuk is definitely burdened!

    How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

    Most prophets deliver God’s message to the people. Habakkuk brings the questions of the people to God. He begins with four questions.


    Can you feel the anxiety? The frustration? Where are You, LORD? Do You see what’s going on? Are You really sovereign, in control? If so, surely You don’t want

    • Ebola spreading
    • the Islamic State to continue
    • innocent children dying from dirty water and starvation
    • Your chosen people, the Jews, in constant battle in Israel
    • natural disasters destroying communities

    Whoever said following Jesus was easy?! This world is messed up! God knows. He sees. He does choose to intervene sometimes, but when? Why? It’s okay to ask God. It’s okay to have questions and doubts. God can handle them. It’s okay to ask why. Jesus even did it on the cross: “Why have You forsaken Me?”

    Obviously our perspective is limited. Daddy knows best. The cross comes before the crown.

    What is your favorite book of the Bible? Mine is the Psalms. As a musician, I especially love the poetic song lyrics contained within the Bible’s song book. However, they are not all happy songs of praise. One third are psalms of lament. They are songs of grief. There is an entire book of the Bible devoted to lament—Lamentations. Why? Because life is hard. There are many battles in which evil wins. As long as satan and his demons are allowed to roam we will experience death, destruction, and pain.

    Today is not the end of the story, however. There is more to come. Much more. 75 or 100 years seems like a lifetime. Wait! It
    is a lifetime, but compares to eternity, it’s instant. As Paul said to the church in Corinth

    …we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16b-18)

    Back to Habakkuk. Here’s God’s response to his lament.

    “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep past like the wind and go on — guilty men, whose own strength is their god.” (Habakkuk 1:5-11)

    God says the solution is the Babylonians. Huh? God would use Babylon to judge Judah. How could God use the wicked Babylonians to judge His chosen people?

    O LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O LORD, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. (Habakkuk 1:12-14)

    Again, God can handle our questions. I have found sometimes when I express my questions, I feel better even if I don’t get the answers I’m seeking.

    Three young men refused to bow to an idol and were sentenced to burning in a fiery furnace. If you recall the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they did not deny the reality of their situation, but understood God may or may not perform a miracle. Instead of denial, they were defiant.

    Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

    “Even if not.” They understood God knows best. He may choose to say yes, no, or wait. They knew God could be trusted, whatever His decision.

    In this instance, He entered the fire with them. King Nebuchadnezzar said

    “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25)

    It’s better to be in the furnace with Jesus that without Him outside of it. Where is God when it hurts? With us. Always.

    Chapter 2: Waiting on God. When?

    “Waiting” means to pass time. It also means to serve another person like a servant waiting on his master.

    Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright — but the righteous will live by his faith — indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples. (Habakkuk 2:2-5)

    Do you like to wait? I hate to wait! When we wrestle with God we often ask “why?” When we wait, the question becomes “when?”

    It’s time for a geology lesson! Geology is the study of pressure plus time. Pressure and time reveal our character. Do you know what pressure over time produces geologically? Diamonds. They are created from the carbon as coal but time and pressure create a jewel.

    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

    This is your diamond, your reward. Can you wait? Can you trust God?

    God wants us happy, but He especially wants us holy. Pressure plus time equals beauty.

    What is the largest diamond in the world? The Hope Diamond!

    Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

    The judgment would occur very soon as God stated. They could remain proud like the Babylonians (we talked about the pride of the Edomites last week) or live by faith knowing God is in control.

    Verse four is one of the most important verses in the Bible. In fact, it is referenced three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38). It is through faith in Jesus that we can receive the righteousness of God.

    For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

    Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)

    But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (Hebrews 10:38)

    We are saved by faith.
    We are to live by faith.

    Notice how Habakkuk is able to express his questions in the midst of faith.

    Next Habakkuk offers a series of woes against the Babylonians. God would bring them down in His perfect timing.

    “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, “‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?’ Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim. Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them. “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them. “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:6-20)

    Chapter 3: Worship.

    Chapter three is Habakkuk’s final response, a song (v. 19). He asks for mercy (2) and describes the character of God (v. 3-15).

    A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On
    shigionoth. LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed. His ways are eternal. (Habakkuk 3:1-6)

    Habakkuk remembers what God has done. Sometimes the way forward is to first look back. The Old Testament is filled with spiritual amnesia, instances of people forgetting God’s goodness and faithfulness. We need to remember. Jesus told us to remember Him, His death, and His resurrection.

    I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish. Were you angry with the rivers, O LORD? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode with your horses and your victorious chariots? You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. Selah You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear. In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot. Selah With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters. (Habakkuk 3:7-15)

    What is the result of Habakkuk’s laments, woes, and anguish?

    I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. (Habakkuk 3:16)

    He accepts what God is doing and then trusts Him. Here’s the conclusion…

    Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:16b-19)

    He was willing to wait. No matter how hopeless the situation, there is hope in God. Tomorrow is coming. As Tony Campolo used to say concerning the crucifixion, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

    God can be trusted. The righteous will live by faith. The best is yet to come. In the meantime, we can worship by faith, offering up a sacrifice of praise.

    For Further Study

    Where is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey

    Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

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

    The Empty Tomb, John 20:1-10, 27 October 2013

    Big Idea: Sometimes tragedies are blessings in disguise.

    Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (1-2)

    So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. (3-5)

    Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. (6-7)

    Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. (8-10)

    Introduction

    Do you like surprises? Why or why not?

    Life is full of surprises. Some are good and some…!!!

    We’ve spent the last several weeks meditating on Jesus’ death and burial. So now it’s time to celebrate Easter, right? Not yet!

    Typical Easter celebrations are just that…celebrations. We sing happy songs, make colorful eggs, and eat chocolate bunnies. Who doesn’t love Easter?

    Although the resurrection is one of the most miraculous and important events in human history, it wasn’t initially perceived as good news. At first, it was nothing short of shocking.

    We know “the rest of the story,” but consider what it would have been like to be a character.

    Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (1)

    It’s Sunday, the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, though she was not alone. No woman would dare venture out alone in the dark, and the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (the synoptic Gospels) make it clear that Mary Magdalene had company.

    Jewish and pagan mourners were often known to visit tombs within the three days after the burial to bring more spices, to weep, or perhaps just to be there.

    The first surprise was clearly the stone. The stone had been removed, something that may not have been immediately clear in the dark. Some tombs were blocked by disk-shaped stones that were rolled in a track.

    What we now understand as wonderful was shocking and alarming. Who moved the stone? Why was the tomb empty?
    Who took the body away?

    So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (2)

    Mary Magdalene is the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles, the first to deliver news of the empty tomb and later to encounter the risen Jesus…but that’s for next week!

    Grave robbers were not uncommon, though there were severe punishments for such a crime.

    Mary announces the empty tomb to Simon Peter and…the other disciple, the one Jesus loved…John? We’re not certain, but let’s assume it was John. Ancient Jewish men did not accept women as reliable witnesses for most legal purposes. Peter and John had to find out for themselves.

    So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. (3-5)

    Peter and John have a race, and who wins?! John lets us know! John was younger, and presumably faster.

    Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. (6-7)

    John arrives first, but Peter enters first and gazes at the strips of linen. All of the linens remain. When Lazarus was resurrected, he remained wrapped. Once the linens were seen, it became obvious something was highly unusual. If the body was stolen, it would make no sense to unwrap it. Notice the cloth, commonly used to keep the mouth shut, was separate from the linen. It’s as if the body disappeared, leaving the linens behind. Jesus will appear to His disciples in a locked room (20:19, 26) and His resurrected body apparently passes through the linen wrappings similarly.

    Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. (8-10)

    John sees and believes. The eyewitness of two men renders the evidence admissible under the Jewish legal system according to Deuteronomy (17:6; 19:15).

    So Peter and John leave the tomb.

    What were they thinking? What were they feeling?

    This was some surprise!

    Conclusion

    Life is filled with surprises. Some surprises we consider good and others bad, but we can be at peace knowing that God loves us and is in control, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

    We celebrate the empty tomb because we know the rest of the story, but for Mary Magdalene and others it was an unexpected, startling scene. Their initial reaction was hardly one of joy. There’s more to come, though.

    Are you facing an unpleasant surprise? Hold fast to Jesus. He promises to be with you. Your story is not over. There is more to come, and He has a remarkable habit of turning mourning into dancing, trials into triumphs, and tragedies into testimonies.

    I certainly don’t want to minimize any pain you may feel at this moment, but I do want to encourage you and remind you that tomorrow is a new day. As Annie said, the sun will come out tomorrow. A God who loves you more than you can imagine is on the throne and is with you. Draw near to Him and He promises to draw near to you. It may feel like Good Friday, but Sunday’s coming…and next Sunday we’ll look at the exciting events that follow this scene at the empty tomb.

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

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

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

    Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John 17

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

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

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

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

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

    Jesus Prays For Himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Jesus Prays For His Disciples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    Again He prays that the Father would protect them.

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

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

    Conclusion

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

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

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

    Credits

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

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

    Presence & Peace, John 16:16-33, 21 July 2013

    Big Idea: No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.

    Introduction

    We conclude the sixteenth chapter of John. We read Jesus’ final words to His followers as His arrest and crucifixion approaches.

    Before we begin I want to remind you of three things:

    1. Your Daddy loves you if you trust in Jesus
    2. The presence of God is here, not in Jesus’ flesh and bones, but the Holy Spirit
    3. Peace is available to those who follow Jesus, regardless of the circumstances

    Pray

    Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

    Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
    (16-18)

    He would be arrested, crucified, then resurrected.

    Jesus knew they wanted to know what He meant.

    Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. (19-20)

    “Little while” may refer to Him leaving to die and then appear.
    “Little while” may refer to Him leaving earth and then, someday soon, appear.

    Joy is coming. Our sorrow will be turned into joy.

    He cares about the broken hearted. He is close to them.

    He gives this example:

    A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. (21)

    He continues

    So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (22-24)

    This is the third time Jesus says to pray in His Name, to abide in Him, to obey Him.

    Pray to the Father in Jesus’ Name. You can pray to Jesus, but He’s with the Father praying for us.

    God wants to hear and answer prayer from those who follow and obey Jesus.

    Followers of Jesus have instant, direct access into the presence of God Almighty.

    Those that belong to Jesus—the branches connected to the Vine—have the same access to the Father that Jesus enjoys. When we pray in Jesus’ Name and for His glory, the Father gives whatever is asked. Why? As we will see in this next passage,
    the Father loves you!

    “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (25-27)

    Jesus often spoke in parables. Many of them are obvious to us because the Bible records His explanation, but so much of what He said was cryptic and mysterious. In fact, He frequently responded to questions with more questions rather than a simple answer.

    In verse 25, He acknowledges how He has been speaking figuratively.

    Mark Twain famously said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

    The Holy Spirit will later guide them and remind them of Jesus’ words, both those things they understood and those that were unclear.

    Some believe John 20:30-31 is the key to the book of John

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

    Verse 28 is also vital.

    I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (28)

    Only Jesus could make this declaration.

    Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” (29-30)

    Jesus is God in the flesh. They finally get it!

    “You believe at last!” Jesus answered. “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
    (31-32)

    These men will desert Jesus.

    Later in the week there will be a moment when the Father is not with Jesus, on the cross forsaking Him as He bore our sins (Ps 22).

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (33)

    This is the last thing He says to them. He wants these words to ring in the minds as they watch Him suffer and die. He wants them to remember His presence, power and peace when He ascends into heaven. When they suffer persecution and ten of them martyrdom, He wants to be certain that they have a peace that endures.

    We can have peace in this life, only through Jesus.

    No Jesus. No peace.
    Know Jesus. Know Peace.

    The only thing you can find in this world is trouble. Trouble and peace do not negate one another. As Don Miller notes, “We are not saved
    from trouble, but rather saved in trouble.”

    Jesus doesn’t say, “Have courage and overcome the world.” Rather, the Greek emphasis is, “Have courage—
    I have overcome the world.”

    Jesus’ victory is our victory. Only in dying to ourselves and receiving new life in Christ can we have peace and joy.

    As Gary Burge concludes

    “Christianity is the offer of God to live in His followers and achieve in them the victory demonstrated in His Son Jesus Christ. And in that indwelling, an indescribable peace will be ours despite the fury and foment of the world around us.”

    - The NIV Application Commentary, John

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

    Hated, John 15:18-16:4, 23 June 2013

    Big Idea: The world will hate true followers of Jesus, but He is with us.

    Introduction

    As we continue our series on the Gospel of John, Jesus continues His farewell address to His eleven disciples prior to the crucifixion. Today’s text is especially sobering, especially in our USAmerican culture that values safety, comfort, pleasure, and popularity. I honestly wish passages such as this were not included, yet they are God’s Word and a vital reminder to us about the realities of following Jesus.

    Jesus said

    “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (18-19)

    Do you like to be liked? We all love to be surrounded by friends, family and fans that love us.

    Do you like to be criticized or even hated? It’s a silly question.

    A child of God cannot be popular with the world.

    I’ve heard of some Christians that act like jerks to people and blame Jesus, saying that they are martyrs for their faith. Jesus is not saying we’ll be hated because
    we offend people. He said we are not of this world and, therefore, as children of God, we serve Him and not the world.

    There are two extremes that are dangerous. The first is syncretism. This is when we look and act just like everyone else. If we do not reflect the light of Christ in the darkness, we are just as dark as our surroundings.

    The other extreme is separatism. This is when we avoid the world, separating ourselves, ignoring the darkness and keeping the light to ourselves.

    We are called to participate in the
    missio dei, the mission of God. We are called to be light in the darkness. The darkness hates light, but some will be drawn to it.

    Virtually everything Jesus said and did was revolutionary and radical. He said the first will be last. He said to save your life you must lose it. He said to serve rather than be served.

    Expect to be hated in the process.

    Expectations

    I believe one of the most important things in life is expectations. It is one of the secrets to peace and contentment. Let me explain.

    When I do pre-marital counseling with couples, I confront two very different, broken human beings, each with a lifetime of experiences and baggage. That may not sound pleasant, but that’s reality. Often, people enter a marriage expecting the other to meet their needs and, as one actress famously said, “complete.” Needless to say, the expectations are frequently unrealistic.

    On the other hand, I remember one couple that asked me to marry them. I knew them both and the extensive challenges each had, yet when we discussed their expectations, I was overjoyed to learn they were modest and honest. Because they entered marriage knowing they would face many difficulties, it’s not surprise to me that many years later they are among the most happily married couples I know.

    Jesus did not want to paint a fantasy picture for His followers, past and present. Throughout His ministry, He “raised the bar,” challenged people, told them to count the cost, and even watched many turn away, unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to be His disciple.

    When Jesus said Christians would be hated, He meant it. He didn’t say following Him would make us happy. He didn’t promise “best life now.” He never promised us a rose garden, a castle, or a Mercedes. Contrary to the message of a whole movement of so-called Christianity, it’s not about us. Jesus said it’s about His glory. He would die, and we would, too.

    In this passage, Jesus contrasts following the world versus following Him. Like a man with one foot on a pier and the other on a boat about to drift away, we must make a choice. We can’t have it both ways.

    Are you a follower of the world or a follower of Jesus?

    We all know the right answer on Sunday morning, but tomorrow is the test. Will you go into debt like everyone else or save and give generously? Will you join the water cooler gossip or be a champion for the underdog and outcast? Will you tell that so-called “little white lie” or tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Will you fill your mind with the Word of God and devote yourselves to prayer or allow yourself to be entertained by the TV and Facebook?

    Are you a follower of the world or a follower of Jesus?

    Every day we answer this question with our checkbook and calendar.

    Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. (20-22)

    He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (23-25)

    Jesus is the light. The darkness hates the light.

    At this moment, 50,000-70,000 of our brothers and sisters are facing hard labor and tortured in North Korea…for their faith. (
    http://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/politics/christians-imprisoned-and-tortured-in-north-korea.cfm)

    That is just one of more than 50 nations where Christians are actively persecuted for their faith.

    We must not be surprised when Jesus warned us more than 2000 years ago that this was inevitable, yet there are ways we can help, too. Visit persecution.com for details.

    “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
    (26-27)

    The Holy Spirit is predicted yet again.

    When we are filled with the Holy Spirit by confessing our sins and inviting Him into our lives, the presence of God Almighty lives in us. We are never alone. He is with us.

    “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
    (16:1-14)

    Conclusion

    This text seems distant to us, yet at this moment many of our spiritual siblings are reading this very text from prison, perhaps from a smuggled Bible. There are a few things we can do in response:

    1. Thank God for the freedoms we enjoy. They can be removed.
    2. Pray for the persecuted. Persecuted.com is a great place for resources. See below for other ways to get involved.
    3. Reflect upon your own life. If it became illegal to follow Jesus in this country, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

    Are you a follower of the world or a follower of Jesus?

    Next Steps

    http://www.prisoneralert.com/  This website is where people can choose a country/person, etc. of their choice and the website will populate a letter with up to 12 pre-selected phrases and translate them into the prisoner’s native tongue. Once complete, you print the letters and addresses. Some cases it is sent direct to the prisoner, and in others it is sent to the embassy or elected officials. . . you can track the number of letters receive updates on who has been released.
     
    http://www.biblesunbound.com This website allows you to select a country or region of the world and send Bibles to those who have requested them. If it’s an open country, you will be sent a list of people who will receive your Bibles, so that you can pray for them as they receive and read them. And, near and dear to my heart, are the covert operations. You don’t get a list of names, but you assist in getting New Testaments into the hands of those behind closed or hostile areas (like Burma). These Bibles are delivered by courageous people who take these Bibles in at great risk. There is a map with little crosses to show you where your Bibles have been sent.
     
    At 
    http://www.persecution.com, under Give, is the opportunity to send funds specifically to the families of those who have been imprisoned for their faith and are no longer able to support their families. They also have a PSP program – which is similar to Compassion in sponsorship. In this instance, it’s a Christian worker in a persecuted country, that receives support to fund outreach and service to fellow Christians and non-believers.  http://www.persecution.com/psp this page has detailed information on what criteria is used to determine eligibility to receive support through this program.

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

    Enough, John 11:1-37, 10 March 2013

    Big Idea: Do you trust God because of what He does or for who He is? Is Jesus enough…or is your love for Him conditional?

    Song: I Give You My Heart by Rueben Morgan

    Do you trust God? Completely?

    LORD, I give You my heart
    I give You my soul
    I live for You alone
    With every breath that I take
    Every moment I’m awake
    LORD have Your way in me

    What would lead You to so fully surrender your life?

    Is it because Jesus died for you?
    Is it because God created you?
    Is it because you have experienced His presence and power?
    Is it because you have witnessed answered prayer?
    Is it because someone told you it’s the proper thing to do?

    Or is it simply because you love and want Jesus for who He is?

    Introduction

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

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

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

    It’s easy to skim through familiar stories, but as we read the narrative, imagine you had never heard it previously. Imagine that you have no idea what follows and each word is a choice morsel in your ears. I’ll warn you: we are not going to finish the story today. You may know the ending, but suspend that information and absorb just today’s Scripture with me.

    Much like a stage play, this story has several scenes.

    Scene One: The Death of Lazarus (1-16)

    Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (1-3)

    There are three siblings. They are not especially wealthy as Beth-any means “house of the poor.” Martha was a busybody who we’re told in Luke 10 worked around the house while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. Jesus loved Lazarus their brother and he was sick.

    When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (4-6)

    The Father is glorified through the glory of the Son.

    I’m sure they were relieved to know that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death. Still, if Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, why did He linger for two days? Most likely He was praying, praying for Lazarus and wisdom. Remember, everything Jesus said and did had tremendous consequences from both the crowds and critics. He was a wanted man, in two different ways.

    Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” (7)

    “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” (8)

    Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” (9-10)

    Jesus is the light of the world.

    After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” (11)

    His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. (12-13)

    Death has a new name for the believer: sleep. Only the body dies. The soul does not. Resurrection always refers to the body. Our bodies do not have souls. Rather, our souls have bodies.

    So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (14-15)

    Jesus was glad? Jesus had spent time with the Father and obeyed His plan. God would redeem this tragic death and use it for His glory.

    Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (16)

    Thomas was hardly an optimist but at least he was willing to die. If you recall, Jesus is a wanted man and His followers would also be a threat to the religious authorities.

    Jesus rarely follows conventional wisdom. When Lazarus was sick, He stayed away. When He said sleep, He meant dead. He said to go in the daytime to avoid tripping in the dark. N.T. Wright notes,

    “If you try to steer your course by your own understanding, you’ll trip up, because you’ll be in the dark. But if you stick close to him, and see the situation from his point of view, then, even if it means days and perhaps years of puzzlement, wondering why nothing seems to be happening, you will come out at the right place in the end.”

    Scene Two: The Resurrection and the Life (17-27)

    On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. (17-20)

    There is a small crowd here. Many Jews were there to comfort the sisters.

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

    “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (21-22)

    Martha says,
    “If only…”

    Perhaps the tone (we don’t know) was, “You’re too late.”

    Have you ever felt like that? God, if only…then…

    Why didn’t you intervene? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did I have to experience…? Why didn’t you do a miracle for me? Why didn’t I get chosen to win the lottery?

    Notice her faith, though. She knew the Father would do whatever Jesus asked. She held out hope for a miracle. Jesus tells her to look forward to the future rather than remaining stuck in the present moment.

    Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” (23)

    Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (24)

    There were two popular religious tribe, the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees who did not.

    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (25-26)

    This is a great declaration! It is the fifth of seven “I am” statements Jesus will make in John. When He says He is the resurrection and the life, He is saying that He is the very power of God unto life. He is life for all of His people. If you believe in Him, you will never die. He doesn’t say He can perform resurrections, He says that He
    is the resurrection…and the life. Jesus is life (John 10:10)!

    “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
    (27)

    This was the testimony of Simon Peter, too.

    Scene Three: Jesus Goes To The Tomb (28-37)

    And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
    (28-31)

    There is something powerful about the presence of friends in the midst of grief. It can be frustrating when we comfort others. What do we say? What do we do? I have learned that often words are unnecessary. “I’m sorry for your loss” and possibly a hug are enough.

    When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (32)

    Mary says,
    “If only…”

    Perhaps the tone again (we don’t know) was, “You’re too late.”

    It’s better for us to have the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus in the flesh.

    When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

    “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
    (33-34)

    There are two words here that need to be clarified. In the Greek, the word translated “weeping” is better stated as “loud wailing and crying.” The word “troubled” in the original Greek was more accurately translated “irate.”

    When Jesus saw her wailing, and the Jews who had come along with her also wailing, he was outraged and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

    “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
    (33-34; edited)

    Jesus saw everyone around Him weeping and He groaned in anger. Why? The sisters’ lack of faith? I believe it was the reality of death. He created our beautiful universe and sin has been slowly destroying it. This world is not the way it’s supposed to be. Sometimes I get angry at death, at cancer, at disease, at injustice. In Jesus’ case, He knew that in a few days
    He would encounter death.

    Jesus wept. (35)

    There it is—the shortest verse in the Bible!

    Jesus, the Son of God, the eternal Word of God, cried. Why? He lost a dear friend, but knew that loss would be reversed. Was it because of their unbelief? Most likely He cried as He grieved with Mary and Martha and their great loss. He could’ve said, “Hey! Stop crying! Watch this!” Instead, He has empathy and shares their heartache and pain.

    Death is a horrible reality in our broken world and we need to grieve. Jesus grieved. Perhaps you’ve been told to ignore grief and sadness since “all things work together for the good” but that is to deny the emotions given to us by God and experienced by God. Romans 12:15 tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

    Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (36-37)

    It was obvious that Jesus loved Lazarus. The Jews asked a fair question, and of course Jesus could’ve kept Lazarus from dying, but God’s ways are higher than our ways. His plans and purposes and timing far exceed our imagination. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to ask, “Why, LORD?” The Scriptures are filled with God-fearing men and women that asked questions of God.

    Ultimately the question is
    do you trust God?

    It’s rather audacious for us to think that we know better than God. Last Sunday night we watched the first episode of The Bible on The History Channel. It was a violent, bloody show depicting many Old Testament scenes that caused many to question how God could endorse the slaughter of first-born Egyptians, the destruction of Sodom, and let’s not forget the complete annihilation of every living creature that failed to get on Noah’s ark.

    Doubt and questions expressed with humility and respect are one thing. Shaking your fist at God, judging
    Him, is quite another. After Job’s life was all but destroyed, God provided some perspective beginning with the 38th chapter.

    Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? (Job 38:3-5)

    “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? (Job 38:12-13)

    “Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting? (Job 39:19-20)

    The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

    Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy — how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer — twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:1-5)

    If you judge God, remember that God himself got out of His judgment seat to become the chief of sinners and be judged with you and by you. God feels our pain more than we can imagine because He suffered and died…for us and for our sin. Nobody knows and understands pain like Jesus.

    God is sovereign and in control.
    God is omnipotent and all-powerful.
    God is omniscient and knows all.
    God is omnipresent and everywhere.

    Again, I think it’s appropriate to ask questions of God, but making demands of Him is ludicrous. He’s God and we’re not. We can rejoice that He is not only all of those “omnis” but also that He is slow to anger and abounding in love, gracious, merciful and compassionate. We can celebrate that we
    don’t get what we deserve, for we have all offended the Holy God and fall short of His standards of righteousness.

    This does not mean that we should turn funerals into parties and dance for joy in the midst of tragedy. It does mean, however, that God has a plan. He always has a plan. His timing can be trusted. His ways can be trusted. Yet knowing He is sovereign and in control and watching Him ignore or delay our cries for help necessitates and even increases our grief, but it is a hopeful grief—a very, very bitter but hopeful grief. The bottom line is not happiness, but His glory. LORD, be glorified!

    I’m in the midst of one of the most urgent seasons of prayer in my life, begging God to heal my girl. The medical experts thought she should improve after three weeks of intense treatments, yet more than six months later she remains unable to walk.

    What is your plan, LORD? What are You waiting for? I know You can heal her. Show Your power. The doctors gave up so now You can get all of the glory. We’ll even post her healing on Facebook for all of the world to see!

    I believe with all of my heart that she will walk again. For months I have been wrestling with God about the timing! This week I cried, “Uncle!” and surrendered it to Him. Until I start to worry and get impatient again!

    The story is not over. Your story is not over. There is more to come. An exciting future awaits us. In the meantime, we must trust God and wait patiently (Psalm 40).

    One of my favorite musical artists, Kirk Franklin, posted this on Tuesday:

    So if God has my problem already worked out, why do I still go through it? Because what He DOESN'T have worked out yet is your attitude...That's what the problem is for. Go.

    Do you trust God because of what He does or for who He is? Is your love for Him conditional...or is Jesus enough?

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

    Vision, John 9, 17 February 2013

    Big Idea: God wants us to see.

    Introduction

    There are several themes in this lengthy account. Religious leaders show their lack of vision while a blind man is able to see. The Sabbath, suffering, religion, and the influence of Jesus are all presented.

    Scripture

    As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (1-2)

    Some Hindus believe disabilities are punishment for sins committed in a previous life.

    The book of Job is clear about this. Though God does discipline those that He loves, often our pain and trials are not the result of sin.

    When our child was first hospitalized six years ago, there were those that subtly and not-so-subtly implied that her pain was the result of our sin. We were being punished for secret sins. My wife and I searched our hearts and came to the conclusion that if there was secret sin in our lives, it was so secret that we were unaware of it. We acknowledged that we were far from perfect, but there was nothing unusual in our actions that caused our child to be in excruciating pain.

    So why do bad things happen to good people? We don’t have time to fully unpack that question, but let me briefly suggest two things. First, none of us are truly good. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Second, sin is the reason. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation has been a mess.

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

    Don’t misunderstand this text.

    God is not cruel, inflicting pain on people to glorify Himself.

    At the same time, God is not fair. Bad things do happen to good people. But God is good and He can be trusted.

    Daddy knows best…really!

    “So that the work of God” likely refers not to what precedes it but rather to what follows. See how different it looks...

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus. “But so that the work of God might be displayed in his life, as long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

    God did not make the man blind to show His glory.

    Rather, God sent Jesus to do works of healing to show His glory.

    I want to pause here for a moment because many of you are experiencing pain and suffering. You might not be blind, but you or a loved one are in the midst of a disability, a shattered dream, or an overwhelming trial.

    I’m with you!

    I’ve tried to take the letter “Y” out of the alphabet because I find myself asking it all the time. Why God? Sometimes we discover why, sometimes we don’t, but God can be trusted.

    Today I prayed for vision to see what God is doing. I don’t understand, but I know He is at work in and through me, my family, and the storm we are experiencing. I want Him to just change the situation. Sometimes He does. Sometimes He doesn’t. Daddy knows best.

    Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (6-7)

    This would not be my preferred method of healing! Spit was thought to be a curse. Jesus was essentially cursing the blindness. The man is healed. This is great news, right? The man was blind, now he sees. Praise God! End of story.

    Not so fast!

    His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

    Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

    But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

    “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. (8-10)
    The people are demanding to know what happened.

    He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

    “Where is this man?” they asked him.

    “I don’t know,” he said.
    (11-12)

    The man didn’t know, but the entire Gospel of John is written so that we can find Jesus.

    They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” (13-15)

    Whenever the Pharisees are involved, you know it’s going to get ugly!

    Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

    But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

    Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

    The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
    (16-17)

    This poor guy has been miraculously healed and all they can do is subject him to an interrogation.

    The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” (18-19)

    Talk about a lack of faith! They don’t believe that the man was ever blind.

    “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

    A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” (20-24)

    This is a huge deal! Getting kicked out of the synagogue was not like being asked to leave a local church. It was like getting kicked out of the city. Even today, the synagogue is not merely the place of worship, but the social center of the Jewish community.

    The Pharisees hated Jesus—as we have seen in previous weeks. They are jealous of Him and the crowds He is attracting from His miracles and teaching. The healed man’s parents are afraid.

    He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

    Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

    He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

    Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

    The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

    To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

    Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (25-35)

    We were all steeped in sin at birth, but the self-righteous Pharisees continued to believe that this man and his parents were responsible for his blindness.

    “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

    Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

    Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

    Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

    Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

    Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (36-41)

    The story ends the opposite of its beginning. The blind man can see and the accusers claim to see clearly when, in fact, they cannot.

    The religious leaders that are supposedly righteous are filled with pride and envy while the supposed sinner is seen worshiping Jesus.

    Which bring us to my favorite question about any text...so what?

    Jesus healed a blind man and they both attracted self-righteous critics. So what?

    Here are a few things to consider:

    1. Suffering is part of our world. It is to be expected, yet it seems to surprise us.

    It all goes back to the Garden. Sin entered the world—not just Adam and Eve—when they ate of the fruit.

    2. We are addicted to comfort and safety.

    2/3 of the world suffers daily...constantly.

    This season of Lent and the very nature of fasting can help us empathize with others that have no food or those that are blind.


    3. Following Jesus often makes life more difficult, not less. Jesus said clearly to His followers

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

    Jesus never promised us safety and comfort, but He did promise His presence. He said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

    1. We need one another.

    It is a lie to think that it’s just about you and Jesus. We were created for community. I need you and you need me. That’s a message for another time, but suffice it to say that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those how mourn.

    5. God may be seem distant or even absent in the midst of suffering, but He is always at work healing our inner lives (see Ephesians 3).

    It is through suffering that I have felt the closest to God. Nobody knows pain like Jesus. Nobody. The apex of human history was Jesus hanging on the cross. He recognized how we had messed up this beautiful world and He came to reverse the curse. He conquered sin and death. It’s hard to experience peace when you are comfortable.

    6. The more we can let go of the idols in our lives and cling to Jesus, the more joy we will experience.

    Some of us look to our health, our bank account, our careers, or even our family members to bring us joy, but Jesus said to follow Him means we need to hate our family and even our own lives in comparison to our love for Him (Luke 14:26).

    We need to live with our hands open—to give and receive.

    Song: Blessed Be Your Name

    7. The best is yet to come. Really.

    We live in the space between the first and second comings of Jesus. We have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is powerful and active. God still heals the blind. There are documented cases all over the world. God still causes the lame to walk. I’m praying that for a special girl right now. Sometimes God says yes to our prayer requests, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have easy answers. I can recommend a pile of books. I can tell you to study the book of Job. I can quote you verse after verse of Paul telling us to rejoice, endure, and embrace suffering. I have plenty of questions myself, but I know God is in control, God is good, and God is faithful. This world is not the end. The best is yet to come.

    In the Lord of the Rings film
    The Two Towers, there is a famous quote from Sam in which he says,

    “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

    They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. What are you holding on to? Who are you holding on to?

    Open our eyes, LORD, to see You at work in and through our lives...for Your glory.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief And Loss, 29 January 2012

    Theme

    “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzeros’ book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

    The Big Idea

    The fourth pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to enlarge your soul through grief and loss.

    Loss

    Adrian Rogers said that everything in life relates to sin, sorrow and death.

    All of life is about loss. We lose the safety of our mother’s womb, youth, dreams, control, illusions, and ultimately our health.

    Grief and loss is done differently in various cultures and families.

    Two-thirds of the Psalms deal with grief. They are called laments. The books of Job and Lamentations are also filled with grief and loss.

    Scripture has been called the music of God.

    There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

    a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

    Job

    Few understand loss and grief more than Job. He’s not the only one, though!

    Matthew 26:36-46

    Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38)

    Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

    Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

    He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

    When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:43-44)

    Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45-46)

    Jesus is depressed and sorrowful. He is distressed. The word in the book of Mark means horror.

    During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

    He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

    He falls to His face to the ground. He is prostrate on the ground. His sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He is experiencing loss, preparing for the loss of His life and, even worse, the loss of His connection to the Father. He will become sin, taking our sins upon Himself. He will bear the wrath and judgment of a holy God. He will lose his friend Judas. He will lose the support of His followers who will abandon Him. His creation will crucify Him…all in the name of God!

    This is not an attractive image of the King of kings and LORD of lords! One element of the Scriptures that lends to their credibility is the raw, honest portrayals of the “heroes” of the Bible. The writers are never afraid to tell it like it is, warts and all!

    This is not happy, successful, popular, wealthy Jesus!

    This is our perfect model of what it means to be fully human.

    Reactions To Pain

    Divorce, death, breakups, failures, disappointments, shattered dreams, painful memories, and other forms of grief and loss invade our lives. Common reactions/defenses to grief and loss include

    - denial
    - minimizing (admitting something is wrong, but not acknowledging its impact)
    - blaming others (or God)
    - blaming yourself
    - rationalizing (offering excuses and justifications)
    - intellectualizing (analysis and theories to avoid personal awareness/feelings)
    - distracting
    - becoming hostile
    - medicating

    We love to bury the pain of grief with addictions that are followed by guilt and shame as we lose control.

    Biblical Grieving

    1. Pay attention
    2. Wait in the confusing in-between (Ps. 37:7)
    3. Embrace the gift of limits

    In addition to loss, we are faced with limits in our life. Limits in our life include

    - physical body
    - family of origin
    - marital status
    - intellectual capacity
    - talents and gifts
    - material wealth
    - educational opportunities
    - raw material (personality, temperament)
    - time
    - work
    - relationship realities
    - spiritual understanding
    - ministry

    4. Climb the ladder of humility

    The word humility comes from the Latin humus which means “of the earth.”

    St. Benedict’s Ladder of Humility

    Step 8 Transformation into the Love of God
    Step 7 Speaking Less
    Step 6 Deeply Aware of Being “Chief of All Sinners”
    Step 5 Radical Honesty to Others About Your Weaknesses/Faults
    Step 4 Patience To Accept The Difficulty of Others
    Step 3 Willing To Subject Ourselves To The Direction of Others
    Step 2 Doing God’s Will (Not Your Own Or Other People’s)
    Step 1 Fear of God and Mindfulness of Him

    Listening To The Interruption

    Jesus doesn’t deny his grief. Why do so many Christians?

    Jesus is real and authentic. He feels. He expresses His emotions.

    He listens to the interruptions of His life.

    Have you ever felt so bad that you could just die? That’s how Jesus felt.

    This passage is difficult for some people who want Jesus the superhero. For the rest of us, it is reassuring that He understands our struggles and trials and agony.

    It is human to feel and hurt.

    Learning To Fall

    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. (John 12:24)

    Book by Philip Simmons, contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease at age 35.

    The trash of the grief may spell, but there are diamonds in the mess that God can use.

    When we listen to the interruption and learn to fall, our souls will enlarge.

    a. our self-will breaks

    Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)

    Jesus had a human will. He was fully God but also fully human. His humanity did not want to obey the Father. He did not naturally obey the Father. He wanted out. He submitted His will to the Father’s will.

    Jesus prayed three times for the Father’s will.

    You learn obedience through the struggle of grief.

    You lose control at the wall (last week’s message).

    Life is more than a series of problems we need to solve. Life is a mystery.

    b. we learn about prayer

    Prayer is the center of our life with Christ. David, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus grieved with God through prayer.

    c. we create space for God

    In emptying ourselves, we make room for more of God. When we give up control, we can lean into God.

    Resurrection

    The beauty of dying to ourselves is the opportunity to be resurrected in Christ. This is beautifully illustrated in the water grave of baptism.

    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)

    Jesus knows and understands life. He knows temptation (Hebrews 4:15) and suffering.

    Patient Trust

    Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

    We are quite naturally impatient in everything

    to reach the end without delay.
    We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
    We are impatient of being on the way to something
    unknown, something new.
    And yet it is a law of progress
    that it is made by passing through
    some stages of instability—
    and that it may take a very long time.

    And so I think it is with you.

    Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
    let them shape themselves, without undue haste.


    Don’t try to force them on,

    as though you could be today what time
    (that is to say, grace and circumstance
    acting on your own good will)
    will make of you tomorrow.

    Only God could say what this new spirit

    gradually forming within you will be.
    Give our Lord the benefit of believing
    that his hand is leading you,
    and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
    in suspense and incomplete.

    - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Note: many ideas derived from Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituailty.

    Trials, 10 July 2011

    Big Idea: Trials are meant to help us grow, not harm us.

    James

    First, it was written by...James! That may seem obvious, but many New Testament books are named after their recipient, not their author. In fact, most of Paul’s writings such as Titus and Ephesians, were written to a man named Titus and a church in the city of Ephesus.

    James is the author, believed by most to be Jesus’ half-brother. Imagine the sibling rivalry in that family! Actually, James was skeptical of the deity claims made by Jesus and later in life became a devoted follower.

    James is probably the earliest of the New Testament writings. Where Paul wrote about inner saving faith from God’s perspective, James wrote about outward saving faith from the perspective of man.

    I love the book of James because it is very practical and easy to understand, though challenging to completely obey. Many biblical books are written to a particular person or group in response to a particular situation. Therefore, we can’t just read and apply without understanding the context. James, however, begins with a very clear and broad audience.

    The early church was the recipient, those Christians in churches around the world. In other words, James writes universal truths that are essentially for all people. It was clearly written for public reading as a sermon and authoritative. In fact, there is, on average, a call for action in every other verse in the book! It is both passionate and picturesque with rich metaphors, similes, and dozens of references to Nature.


    He begins...

    James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

    To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

    Greetings.
    (1:1)

    Here we see that he is clearly a Christ-follower. He was a well-known, authoritative figure in the early Church. He actually led the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15). He calls himself simply a servant, the Greek word “doulos” meaning a bond-slave. He was God’s property.

    He is writing to the twelve tribes, a reference to the Jews that were scattered from their homeland among the Gentiles.

    He then writes, “Greetings.” He is obviously a friendly man!

    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (1:2)

    Wait a minute! Did we read that correctly?

    Did he write joy and trials in the same sentence? Are you kidding me? If you’re like me, you do everything to avoid trials. My flesh wants life to safe, comfortable, and convenient. I want things to go smoothly. Any unexpected interruption to my life is not a joy but a pain in the rear end! Trials in my life are met with groans and complaints.

    Do you know what I mean? Perhaps that is why James needed to write these words!

    The Greek word for trial here is
    peirasmo/ß, peirasmos, It means trial or temptation or test.

    How many of you like to take tests in school? If you’re like me, there have been one or two tests that you actually looked forward to taking, the ones you studied hard for and felt confident and prepared. The purpose of a test is not to be a hardship or reveal your stupidity, but to show what you know. A test is given to see if a student can pass, not pass out! Trials are not to be seen as tribulations but tests. Our attitude is critical in the midst of trials.

    James does not say to be happy, but to be joyful. He doesn’t say to be joyful for the trials, but in the midst of trials.

    How do we find joy in trials?

    ...because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (1:3-4)

    Tests have a purpose. If you pass your third-grade tests, you demonstrate your readiness for fourth-grade. If you pass the bar exam, you prove that you can be an attorney. James reminds us that endurance is one product of trials. James’ readers know this (notice “because you know”) but I’m afraid we’re not so quick to think about the benefits of trials in our culture. Athletes might be the exception.

    No pain, no gain.


    In this case, the testing is not done to prove our faith but to approve it. We develop endurance, but the goal is to be mature and complete. I think we all want to be complete, but it doesn’t just happen. Even physical maturity requires growing pains. It’s all part of God’s plan for our lives. He wants us to grow and mature and becoming complete in Him so He allows trials and testing to accomplish His purposes.

    “But wait,” you might say, “I thought God loves me.” He absolutely does. Love is looking out for the best interest of another. He wants you to grow, become strong, and be a blessing to others.

    Five years ago if you told me about your trials, I would’ve done my best to be kind and understanding, but I had no idea what real testing was all about. Through several events in the past few years, I have a completely different perspective. I know suffering. I know testing. It has changed me. It has transformed me. I’d like to think that I’m done, but I know there are more trials ahead.

    Friends, you are either in a trial, coming out of a trial, or about to experience one. Don’t face that as bad news. It’s all part of God’s plan to make you more like Jesus, the One who faced the ultimate trials and testing.

    Gold

    The testing of our faith produces patience and perseverance. Faith is like gold. Gold endures no matter how hot the fire. Peter—who understood trials as did all of the early church leaders, most of whom died as martyrs, wrote

    In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

    When gold is heated, the impurities rise to the surface. The metal worker cannot take their eyes off of the gold, knowing that it is pure when they can see their face reflected in it. That’s what God does. He refines us through trials until all that is seen in us is Jesus.

    Let me pause for a moment and say that there are two types of trials—those that come to us and those that are self-inflicted. I’m always amazed when I hear of teenage girls that say, “God, how could you allow me to get pregnant” or the person angry at God because they got caught speeding or stealing. Our actions have consequences. There are other things, however, like tsunamis, diseases, and the drunk driving of others over which we have no control.

    We can face trials with joy because it will mature us and our faith to the point where we lack nothing.

    But that’s easier said than done, right? How?! Fortunately, James continues….

    Wisdom

    If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (1:5)

    Wisdom is not merely knowledge but the application of knowledge. Do you seek wisdom?

    King Solomon had an Aladdin experience. He was given one wish from God.

    That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
    (2 Chronicles 1:7)

    Solomon said

    Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

    God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”
    (2 Chronicles 1:10-12)

    What does this verse promise us about asking for wisdom? God gives it generously to those who ask.

    My greatest prayer is for wisdom. I pray daily for God to give me wisdom as I seek to lead my family, Scio, and most of all myself!

    Keep in mind that the context of this request is in the midst of trials. If you’ve ever asked “why?” you have sought Godly wisdom to understand your situation. God loves it when we ask for wisdom. He loves to hear us pour out our hearts. He loves honest, authentic prayers.

    Perhaps you’ve been told that there are certain things that appropriate to tell God. He knows it all! Keep it real! He can handle the truth!

    But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (1:6-8)

    We must seek God and His wisdom in faith. One writer says that our answer from God depends upon our assurance in God.

    I can tell you from experience that God can be trusted. He is love. Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will always be easy, but it will be satisfying. It will be filled with purpose. It will contain hope and meaning.

    If you’re in the midst of a trial right now, I want to remind you that God is real. God cares. It might not feel like it, but I promise you that He does. I often think about a child at the doctor’s getting immunizations. Love is the last thing that they feel, yet the shots are actually the most loving thing a parent to can allow, providing endurance and strength to avoid devastating diseases.

    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
    (Jeremiah 29:11)

    We may experience hurt that God allows to shape us but never harm. There is one that wants to harm us, though.

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    The Rich

    How many of you are rich? Compared to the rest of the world, the poorest in this room are filthy rich.

    If you make $25,000/year, you are in the top 10% richest on the planet!
    If you make $50,000/year, you are in the top 1% richest on the planet!

    Of course, rich does not always refer to finances. We can be rich in health, friends, or spirit. James continues…

    The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (1:9-11)

    Most of the Jewish converts were poor and perhaps considered their lowly position a hindrance in enduring trials. James reminds them that God honors the persistence of even the lowliest of people. The rich, on the other hand, are trusting in their riches which will whither and fade away. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

    Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (1:12)

    And everybody said…amen!

    To summarize,

    • - trials DO arrive in our lives
    • - our attitude is critical, seeking joy and God
    • - God is not out to harm us, though we may hurt
    • - we can ask for wisdom when we ask “why?” during trials
    • - we will be blessed by enduring trials and transformed through them
    You can listen to the podcast here.
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