Authority, 21 March 2021

Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 11:27-33

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

Big Idea: Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth…and he has given it to us for God’s glory.

When one of our children was little, they were given a time-out for poor behavior. Not long after, my wife discovered they had gotten up with plans to return to playtime. Heather said, “Who told you to get up from your time-out?” They replied, “God!”

While I doubt God really did that, it’s a perfect introduction to today’s topic: authority.

When I think back to my own childhood, I can remember asking, “Who gave you permission?” to do something. Maybe you’ve said, “Who put you in charge?” or even, “Who made you God?”

As we’ve been looking at the life and teachings of Jesus—our example, the one we follow, the whole purpose of First Alliance Church—we’re blessed to be able to eavesdrop on some of his conversations. As we saw last week, they’re not always cordial! When he finds the sacred temple in Jerusalem turned into something of a shopping mall, he expresses his anger—without sinning—in words and deeds. Although he addressed inappropriate behavior, he was especially confronting the wicked hearts of the religious leaders who—consequently—wanted to have him killed. The crucifixion on Good Friday was no accident. It was all part of God’s plan to seek and save humanity.

Before we look at today’s text in Mark chapter eleven, I want to declare

Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. He studied and knew the Jewish Bible, amazed the religious teachers when he was only twelve years old (Luke 2:47), and the first chapter of this gospel or “good news” of Mark told us

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)

Ouch…for the teachers of the law!
Jesus possessed authority. Not only were his words filled with truth and wisdom, they came with authority.
If you have truth but no authority, you’re like a little boy trying to direct traffic at a busy intersection. Good luck!

If you have authority with no truth, you’re likely to be corrupt and act unjustly.

Truth and authority, however, is a powerful combination that can lead to transformation.

We need authority in our world. Without it, we’d have chaos. Imagine if drivers were allowed to drive as fast and reckless as they desired without any threat from police (or speed cameras!). How could we have March Madness without a little authority from the refs in the striped shirts? What would happen in the home or school if children did as they pleased? Imagine a workplace with no boss to enforce the employee handbook. It would be anarchy before long.

There’s a popular saying in our culture from Rich Remender which says, “There is no authority but yourself.” How long can civilization survive with that mantra?

We’re told in the book of Romans,

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)

God is the ultimate authority. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus has the ultimate authority. This word, authority, in the original Greek is exousia (ex-oo-see-ah). It means jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength, …authority.

Let’s look at our text for today in Mark chapter eleven.

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:27-28)

They’re challenging Jesus. We learned last week they were afraid of Jesus because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. They wanted to do anything possible to discredit him…including killing him. In modern terms, they were probably saying, “Who do you think you are, God or something?”

One of Jesus’ favorite tools was to respond to a question with a question.

Jesus replied,
“I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (Mark 11:29)

One question. That’s reasonable, right?

John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
(Mark 11:30)

Zinger! If you don’t understand the question, don’t worry. Mark explains.

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) (Mark 11:31-32)

Jesus set them up. Remember, he’s the smartest man who ever lived! More than an intellectual argument, he was really concerned about their hearts. He knew they were up to no good.

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
(Mark 11:33a)

At least they were honest!

Jesus said,
“Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Mark 11:33b)

Jesus sounds a little snarky, doesn’t he? That’s not very nice, Jesus. But perhaps it was necessary to get their attention…or get them even more riled up to kill him!

Jesus possessed authority in heaven and on earth.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:16-18)   

Followers of King Jesus are under his authority.

This might be the primary difference between the world and Christians. The world will always act like the world. They’ll do what they want…or what they can get away with.

Followers of Jesus submit…to God’s authority. Paul wrote,

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

You don’t have to like everything in the Bible, but by definition, followers obey. We are told to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ. In other words, we die to ourselves, our agendas, our sin and seek first God’s Kingdom, His will, His ways.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)   

We are under the authority of King Jesus who then said,

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 28:19-20)   

We call this the Great Commission because they are the instructions Jesus gave to his followers before leaving earth, ascending into heaven. It’s our mandate, our purpose, our mission.

John records these powerful words from Jesus:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15-21)

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
(John 14:22)

Jesus replied,
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

In this passage, Jesus declares his authority comes from the Father. He also repeatedly states love equals obedience.

If you love me, keep my commands.
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.
Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

Do you love Jesus? Do you really love Jesus? If so, we need to obey his commands. While the two greatest are general—love God and love your neighbor as yourself—the Great Commission brings some clarity, some specificity.

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 28:19-20)   

This is the assignment. Jesus has the authority—all authority—and this is what he does with it. He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations.

What does that mean? Ultimately, it means
we are to become followers of Jesus who help others become followers of Jesus. We are to live like Jesus, become like Jesus, and guide others to Jesus.

There are two parts to this idea of discipleship. First, we are to live like Jesus. It begins with surrender. There are no shortcuts. It’s a daily rhythm of dying to yourself and seeking first God’s Kingdom. This is especially hard in our culture where we’re bombarded by messages from social media, billboards, and nearly omnipresent advertising about how it’s all about us. But it’s not! The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It’s not about our desires, our rights, our pleasure. I’m not saying self care is wrong, but self-worship is!

Satanism is a real thing. Its essence is not the worship of satan as some believe, but the worship of self. Here’s a quote from a website about Satanism:

“…instead of relying on some moral code meant for those who belong to religion, the Satanist is free to choose who they will love or who deserves their punishment. This places the satanist at the center of their own world, their own universe with the self being the most important aspect of all.” (

Our culture is obsessed with self worship. It’s as old as satan himself, the prideful one who began his tempting spree with Eve and Adam in the Garden. He told Eve,

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

It’s the top two commandments again: no other gods, no idols (Exodus 20). Who’s the leader of your life? Who’s in charge? What drives your decisions? What inspires your words, your budget, your social media activity, your calendar? Most people do what they want to do with little regard for others and less regard for God. That’s why any talk of restraint, self-control, obedience, submission, or discipline is met with horror and disdain. We all want to be gods! We all want it our way! Tragically, I don’t think people inside the church are often all that different from the world. We just follow what everyone else is doing to “keep up with the Joneses” and fit in.

But that’s not the way of Jesus. That’s not discipleship. That’s not what it means to live under God’s authority. I know this sounds harsh. I know sounds radical. It is! While it may make you feel uncomfortable, I will make you a promise:
you will ultimately not regret following Jesus.

Jesus is the smartest human ever. You’re not. Sorry!
Jesus is the wisest human ever. Not even Solomon can claim that.
Jesus is the most powerful human ever. He has all authority. Our president doesn’t.

is God. He didn’t try to self-actualize or evolve into a god. He is God. Capital G!

And he is good. His ways are good. His life is good. His teachings are good. His love is good. He is the only one worth following in this world.

In our current culture, authenticity is the new authority. The constant message is let your emotions dictate your actions. Do what feels right. Get what you want. It’s all about you. Be true to yourself. You do you. Speak your truth. Tragically, we often do what we think others want, what will get the most likes on social media, what is trending. Popularity won’t last! Following your momentary emotions and desires will not lead you to lasting happiness.

Your authentic self is who you were
created to become. You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. God was not made by you for your glory!

We all need an external guide in order to experience human flourishing. We need something to build our lives upon. We need the rock of Jesus Christ, the one true authority who loves us, proved it, the way, the truth, and the life who will lead us into all truth, all peace, all joy. We need Jesus!

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

Wise Man, 29 December 2019

Wise Man: Christ
Series—Away in a Manger
Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 1:1, Luke 2:11, Luke 2:22-39, Leviticus 12:1-8, Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6, Matthew 27:19, Matthew 27:29, Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:54

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

Big Idea:
Wise men and women still seek truth…and bring him presence.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Christmas over? We blew out Jesus’ birthday candles days ago. Sure, we haven’t taken down the tree yet, but it’s time to move on, to get ready for New Year’s Eve, the ball drop, the football bowl games…

Here’s a thought: Jesus is the reason for the season…every season! And wise men—and women—still seek truth…and bring him gifts.

We don’t know Jesus’ exact birthday. We know it was about 2000 years ago but there’s a 1-in-365 chance that Jesus was born on December 25. Mary and Joseph were there. Shepherds were there. Animals and angels were there. The three kings or wise men? Not a chance!

Here’s the story from Matthew’s gospel—“good news”:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

These are Magi from the east. It says nothing about kings. The names of the Magi—Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior—and their status as kings from the east or “Orient” are based upon legend and tradition, not the Bible. So what are Magi? They are learned Gentile men. They may have come from Arbia, Ethiopia, Persia, or even India. They were likely astrologers, paying attention to the stars, which was easier to do then—before electricity and lights! It may seem odd to us that people took cues from what they saw in the sky, but they believed everything we interconnected. When a something special appeared in the sky, they assumed something special was occurring on earth. Scholars aren’t sure what the Magi saw exactly, but some think it may have been the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter was the royal, kingly planet and Saturn was thought, by some, to represent the Jews. They came to Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, looking for the king of the Jews. However, Matthew wants us to know his rule is not limited to the Jews.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

No king wants to be overthrown. It is my understanding that the Romans were fine with the Jews so long as they were good, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. When stars announce a new king, that can be threatening! Herod was not someone you wanted to threaten, as he murdered his wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. And soon he would slaughter baby boys, too. He was not a descendant of David…or even Jacob, but rather Esau, causing hatred from most of the Jews.

Notice how a simple question from the Magi disturbs not only King Herod—the fake king of the Jews—but all Jerusalem.

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)

I still find it remarkable that the birthplace of Jesus was prophesied about 700 years before his birthday (Micah 5:2, 2 Samuel 5:2)!

It says “a ruler who will shepherd.” How many kings and rulers actually care for their people?

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Why did Herod call the Magi secretly? He was obviously scheming since he had no intention of worshipping this child…this king…or anyone!

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9)

The star in the east reappears to the Magi. Though some believe these were actually planets, others think maybe it was the Shekinah glory of God that led the people of Israel for forty years in the wilderness as a pillar of fire and cloud.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. (Matthew 2:10)

We talked about joy last Sunday. They had great joy. They saw the star. It was moving until it reached the place where the child Jesus was, about five miles south of Jerusalem.

When I toured Israel many years ago, our tour guide told us to consider not only the historical buildings, fields, and bodies of water, but also the sky above us. Angels sung above Bethlehem. In this account, a star guided the Magi as they traveled and stopped above Jesus.

There’s a passage in the book of Isaiah that may prophesy this occasion.

Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:6)

Gold, incense, and praise. Where have I heard that before?

Psalm 72 makes some references which may be relevant.

May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. (Psalm 72:10)

Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long. (Psalm 72:15)

Jewish tradition and the early church saw this as pertaining to the Messiah.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

We don’t know how many Magi were present; maybe two, maybe twenty. We sing “we three kings” because there were three gifts mentioned and those three men with three gifts look so nice in the nativity scene! The Roman Catholic Church states Orient tradition would favor at least twelve Magi. This is the only verse in the New Testament that lists the gifts given to Jesus.

We usually see Magi in Nativity scenes carrying small “samples” of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Magi were high-level dignitaries who likely brought great quantities of these gifts, perhaps even a whole train of pack animals loaded with them. When the Queen of Sheba brought a gift to king Solomon, for example, she gave 9000 pounds of gold (2 Chronicles 9:2)!

It's possible that these gifts had special significance. They were appropriate presents for kings or even gods. Gold might reflect Jesus’ deity or purity, frankincense the fragrance of his life, and myrrh —which is used to embalm the dead—a foreshadowing of his death on the cross. It’s likely is these gifts provided the resources needed to flee to and live in Egypt until Herod died.

It’s worth noting years later, Pilate’s soldiers will be the first Gentiles wince the Magi to call Jesus the king of the Jews, though his crown would be made of thorns, his throne a cross, and instead of a star, darkness would cover the land while a Gentile man declares Jesus to really be God’s son.

We don’t know when the Magi arrived, either. It is probably months, possibly days, but it may have been up to two years since Herod wanted all baby boys up to two years old killed on a not-so-silent night. Matthew tells us the family was in a house, so this was definitely not Jesus’ birthday.

Every time the child Jesus and Mary are mentioned together, Jesus is mentioned first. Notice Matthew calls him a child now rather than a newborn infant.

Our text for today concludes,

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:12)

What followed was Joseph taking his family to Egypt to escape King Herod’s slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.

So What?

Great, powerful men traveled far bringing gifts to a royal baby, one whose mission was to die. Other kings rule and reign, and when Jesus returns, that’s exactly what he will do…forever! He is the Lord of lords. He is the King of kings.

But as we look back at history, we see the most unlikely birth of a king. We see the most unexpected death of a king. We see here the king of the Jews pursued by wise Gentiles.

The wise men were searching for truth. Are you?

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is the truth. What he says is offensive to many, yet timeless and true. If we read and listened to Jesus as much as we do the news, I believe we would be different, to say nothing of the other 7+ billion people in this world.

The wise men were searching for truth. Are you?

One of the most searched, quoted, and misquoted verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11.

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)

The problem with this verse comes when you take it out of context. God is speaking to the Israelites exiled in Babylon. It’s not something to cut and paste onto a t-shirt. I’m not suggesting God wants to harm you, but that there’s more to the message. It continues:

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:12)

God’s inviting the people of Israel to get involved, to pursue, to pray. Then God adds:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Wise men still seek him. Wise women, too!

Jesus said,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33-34)


The wise men brought gifts? Did you?

I must confess I always thought the gifts of the Magi were small samples that could fit in the palm of your hand. While that makes for a nice Nativity scene, it’s highly unlikely. Kings were given great, extravagant gifts. If you’re going to travel a distance, why not bring the best?

What did you get Jesus for his birthday? No, it’s not too late! Every day is a day worth celebrating the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

You might wonder what you can give? One of my favorite Christmas songs—perhaps because it’s about a musician—is The Little Drummer Boy. If you omit the “rum pump um pum,” you’re left with these words:

Come they told me A newborn King to see Our finest gifts we bring To lay before the King
I am a poor boy too I have no gift to bring That's fit to give a King
I played my drum for Him I played my best for Him Then He smiled at me Me and my drum

What’s the message? A poor boy brought what he had…his drum…his best.

Some of you have great financial wealth. Give Jesus your best. Invest in his church.

Some of you have great talents. Give Jesus your best. Sing. Dance. Serve. Design. Paint. Lead. Invite. Love.

Some of you have great quantities of time. Pray. Visit. Read. Encourage.

We all need to give of our time and talent and treasures…and give our best. It will look different for each person, but the point is we need to give God our very best. We’ll talk more about this next Sunday, but for now, think about your gift to the King of kings.

Do you know what he wants more than anything? You can’t get it at Walmart! He wants you! He wants your heart, your obedience, your worship, your witness.

I think he also wants you to seek him, to pursue him, to be fully present with him. Not just now. Not just on Sundays. Not just at Christmastime. Every day. Every hour. Every moment. I believe if Jesus walked into this room and we gave him one wish from us, he would say the same thing he said to his friends:

Follow me.

He says it six times in the book of Matthew (Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9; 10:38, 16:24, 19:21) and numerous times in Mark, Luke, and John.

Wise men and women still seek truth…and bring him presence.

They are present. They pursue. They listen. They read. They pray. They slow down. They love. They worship. They follow.

My prayer for all of us as we draw near the end of this year and decade is that we would seek truth, seek God’s Kingdom, and give all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength to the King of kings.

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

Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Defending the Truth, 26 August 2018

    Defending the Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    1 Peter 3:13-17

    Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

    Big Idea: We need to know the truth so we can accurately and lovingly share the truth.

    We’ve been talking about truth throughout this month. We said first and foremost, Jesus is the truth—the way, the truth, and the life. The Bible was God-breathed or God-spirited or inspired by God. It is a miracle: 66 books written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages, yet it is remarkably cohesive and consistent in telling a beautiful love story between a Creator and His creation, between God and humanity.

    We can know God through general revelation—creation—and specific revelation, including the Bible. So how do we get everyone to believe the Bible is true and obey it perfectly like us?!?! Ha!

    Today we’re looking at truth upheld. The fancy word is apologetics. No, it’s not to to say you’re sorry. Apologetics is “the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse.”

    In plain English, it’s defending the Bible from critics. Today we’re talking about defending the truth, which ultimately means both helping others experience God and drawing us closer to our Creator.

    We’re all at different places in our spiritual journey. Some of you may be atheists. Welcome! Some of you may be agnostics. We want to welcome you, too! Others of you are new to the faith, some have followed Jesus for a while, and still others of you have been Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians for decades. Therefore, any discussion about defending the Bible acknowledges some of you want to be equipped to defend the Bible while others of you are on the other side, wondering why anyone would believe it in the first place. I’m so glad you’re here, regardless!

    Jude wrote to early Christians,
    Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. (Jude 3)
    One of the great things about the Bible is it’s a book about real people and real, historical events. Every year archaeologists are uncovering evidence verifying the authenticity of the Bible. Hundreds of biblical prophecies have been fulfilled. Micah 5:2 and Luke 2:4-7 connect as just one example.
    Skeptics often say the Bible has contradictions and errors, but a more careful examination reveals that’s simply not the case. For instance, they’ll say God never changes, yet He changed His mind…but did He? Or was it merely from the perspective of the writer that He
    appeared to change His mind. There are difficult biblical passages, but I have yet to find one without an explanation.
    I mentioned last week how many of the sharpest critics of the Bible have become followers of Jesus, embracing the Scriptures as God’s Word. Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are among them, and if you have questions about the Bible and its truthfulness, I urge you to read their research. Other prominent apologists—or defenders of the Bible—include Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, and even C.S. Lewis. I’m not suggesting I agree with everything each of them have written, but they have devoted much of their lives addressing biblical critics and revealing evidence for the reliability of the Bible.
    If you’re a skeptic, I doubt a single sermon will change your mind, but I urge you to investigate. Ask questions. Text me your questions. It might sound cliché coming from a pastor, but I’ve studied, I’ve done the research, and I’m convinced the Bible is God’s Word. I declare my full support for The
    Alliance Statement of Faith which says,
    The Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.

    If you believe the Bible, do you know why? Can you defend it? The greater question is, what are you doing about your belief in the Bible?
    I’m going to say something radical which will probably get me in trouble.

    I don’t care if the Bible is true. Well, that’s not quite true. Don’t post that on Twitter!

    I care more about Jesus being true than the Bible being true. Our faith is not built upon a book, but rather a person. Truth is not a list of propositions. It’s a person. Again, Jesus said,

    “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
    Everything in the Bible is true, but it’s not the center of our faith, nor does it claim to be. Christianity is built upon Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection.
    Pastor Andy Stanley summarized this point when he said: “Christianity does not exist because of the Bible any more than you exist because of your birth certificate. Your birth certificate documents something that happened. If you lose it, you do not go out of existence.”
    We need to let the Bible guide us toward Jesus. The Bible is all true, but it’s not the center of faith for us. Jesus is that center.
    Some people get so caught up in defending the Bible and whether it is inspired or inerrant or King James or infallible or whatever that they miss the purpose of the Bible—to help us know the God who created us, loves us, died for us, rose from the dead, and will return to judge us all. The Bible is a love letter. It tells us who God is, who we are, and how we are to love God and one another.

    The Bible is divine revelation, revealing God’s will for salvation. The Scriptures guide our faith and practice. They tell us how to live…and why we should live. They tell us how to love…and why we should love.

    With all respect to the great apologists who defend the Bible, who cares if the Bible is true if it is not studied and applied? Most people in our city aren’t asking, “Is the Bible true?” They want to know, “Does it work? Can I apply it to my life? So what?”

    I love the Bible. I read it. I study it. I proclaim it. I believe it. I know it is inspired by God.
    But the foundation of our faith is not a book. It’s not theology. It’s not laws or rules. It’s a story. It’s a Person. It’s an empty cross…and an empty tomb. Our faith is built upon the historical, living Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. To quote a great hymn,

    My faith is built on nothing less/than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

    If you asked me about my wife and I showed you all of the love letters she wrote me over the years but never said anything about my relationship with her, you’d find that rather odd, right? I care more about my wife than the letters she wrote me, and the same is true for the Bible. I love it, but it’s a means to an end. It helps me know God.

    The Bible is big. It’s controversial. A friend of mine recently put together a list of 24 questions and asked people to rank their order of importance. The point of the exercise is not to answer the questions, but rather to determine if the question is peripheral, important, essential, or affects salvation. Here are a few examples:

    Is the story of Jonah and the fish a (fictional) parable or did it actually happen?
    Was the universe created less than ten thousand years ago in six 24-hour days?
    Will pets be in heaven?
    Are there errors of any kind in the Bible?
    Did Jesus physically rise from the dead?

    Our six elders agreed on the priority of only one of these questions. That is, some felt the question was a salvation issue while others felt it was essential, important, or peripheral.

    Scripture never says we must believe in an actual person named Jonah who was swallowed by a great fish in order to be saved and experience eternal life.

    Scripture never says we must believe in a literal, six 24-hour day creation to be saved.

    I think Paul was pretty clear:

    If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

    Don’t hear what I’m not saying! I don’t know how old the earth is, and it’s really not that important to me. If you want to use an alternative narrative to deny the existence of God, I’m out of here, but if you content God may have used some type of evolution to produce our universe, I’m not going to get hung up on six 24-hour days…especially since the sun and moon were not even created until the fourth day…so what defines a day and how long were the first three days?

    With all due respect to the Creation Museum, the age of our universe has no bearing on whether or not Jesus died and rose again for you and me. In the beginning God. That’s my focus. Maybe the earth is billions of years old and maybe it’s thousands of years old. I don’t know! I don’t care! What I do know is Jesus is Lord, I believe in my heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that I’m commanded to love God and love others as I love myself.

    If you want to study the age of the earth, that’s great. Really. But don’t worship the study of creation. Worship the Creator…and obey Him.

    See, the challenge we all face is how to read the Bible. Some have called for a literal interpretation. Well, that’s fine when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But
    always taken literally, we would have to declare the Bible is clearly false. For example,

    The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. (Psalms 50:1)

    The sun does not rise. We know this. It is undeniable. The earth rotates in such a way that it appears that the sun rises, but it is the earth—not the sun—which moves. There! This is an example of biblical criticism. The critics say the Bible can’t be true…

    …except the Psalms are not a science textbook. They are songs and poems. When a singer sings, “I love you with all of my heart,” they’re not speaking of the organ in their chest that pumps blood. It’s a metaphor for deep emotion and commitment. There are many things in the Bible which need to be interpreted, not merely read like a
    Toledo Blade article. As we understand the Bible and, in particular, the overarching narrative of the Bible, the problematic passages begin to make sense. If you were to read a John Grisham or Steven King novel, you don’t begin with chapter six and say it’s confusing. You need to understand the big picture…the story.

    Sometimes the Bible—or its misuse—has actually become a barrier to people knowing Jesus. Could there be anything more tragic? Scot McKnight wrote in his book The King Jesus Gospel

    “When the plan (of salvation) gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off from the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation."

    So What…now?

    I know, some of you are getting confused, maybe even upset. Studying and obeying the Bible is not always simple, and like I said last Sunday, it’s not always best done by ourselves. We were created for community. From beginning to end, relationships are found on virtually every page of the Bible. We gather together to study. I’m not saying you should never open the Bible alone, but I am saying you probably can’t understand and apply every verse of the Bible alone.

    Last week I mentioned the value of study Bibles, online tools, small groups, and most of all the Holy Spirit.

    Should you eat ham on Easter?
    Should you vote Republican or Democrat?
    Should women pray without wearing a hat?
    Should you go to a Rated-R movie? What if it’s “The Passion of the Christ?”
    Should you own a house…or anything at all?
    Should you give ten percent of your income to First Alliance Church? If so, gross or net?
    Should you send your kids or grandkids to public, private, or home school?
    Should you observe the Sabbath every Sunday? Or what about Saturday?
    Should you get a tattoo or not?

    Here’s the honest truth: the answer to all of those questions is maybe.

    So what are we to do now?

    First, focus on Jesus. He’s the subject of the Bible. The great thing about Jesus is he’s alive, so as we learn about him, we also can talk with him through prayer. He summarized the entire Bible quite simply.

    Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)

    Jesus replied:
    “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

    ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth as it says in John chapter 16. Knowing God is a fascinating adventure because we have the Bible, we have the church, and we have the Holy Spirit helping us know our Father and His son, Jesus.

    Third, be a student. Recognize you don’t know and understand everything in the Bible, much less obey it. That’s ok. I don’t know and understand everything about my wife, either. Each day is a new opportunity to discover her, and a new opportunity to discover Jesus. Dr. Leonard Sweet once said, “20% of my theology is wrong. I just don’t know what 20%.” That’s humility, and that’s the posture we need to have when it comes to the Bible. There are many things which are very clear: love others, pray, care for widows and strangers and orphans, speak truthfully, stay sexually pure, etc. These are repeated throughout the Bible and throughout church tradition, too. If you ever hear of someone claiming a radical new understanding of the Bible, question them. We stand today on the shoulders of men and women who have studied and applied the Bible for centuries. God never changes. His Word, the Bible, continues to change the lives of people around the world, however.

    Our apologetic—our defense of the Bible—is the resurrection of Jesus. Paul, the great persecutor of the first Christians who became a follower of Jesus and spent much of his life starting churches, wrote,

    And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

    The Bible is all about Jesus. Do you know him?

    Jesus’ friend Peter wrote,

    Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)

    The greatest apologetic—the greatest defense of the Bible—is your life transformed through it. It has often been said your life will be the only Bible some people will ever read. The best defense is a good offense—an attractive, compelling life.

    I challenge you to read the Bible. Study it. Apply it. See if it doesn’t change your life. See if God doesn’t change your life. He has changed mine. Jesus is alive. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

    Apologetics Resources (defending the Bible from critics)

    Ravi Zacharias
    Josh McDowell
    Lee Strobel
    William Lane Craig

    Online Bible Study Resources

    The Navigators
    Mission 119

    Books on Studying the Bible

    The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
    How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart
    Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Richards and O'Brien

    A Provocative Interview

    Andy Stanley

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Preserving Truth, 19 August 2018

    Preserving the Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    1 Peter 1:22-25
    Series Overview:
    God is truth and the source of all truth.
    Big Idea: The Bible has transformed lives for thousands of years…and continues to do so today.
    I want to take you back in time to…2007. Do you remember? The nation was in recession. Detroit and their car companies was in trouble. My mom bought a Chrysler minivan which came with a special lifetime warranty. A lifetime warranty!

    They say nothing lasts forever, but a lifetime warranty is good enough, right? When I buy a car—or a house or computer or most anything, I want it to last. I know, things break, but who likes to have the dishwasher quit…besides the appliance repair person?

    Our world feels so temporary, so disposable. My four year-old iPhone is considered by many to be a dinosaur. Fashion trends change every few years, if not every few months. The careers of musicians is sometimes shorter than that of athletes, which isn’t long. The changes on our planet are occurring faster and faster, making anything resembling stability and longevity increasingly rare. Retro and vintage are the new modern! What can we rely upon? What can we trust? What won’t go out of style in twenty minutes?

    We’re in the middle of a series on
    truth. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but even truth has—uh—changed. ‘Post-truth’ was named the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries…but that was in 2016 so I’m sure it’s outdated! They defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is true that we have entered a post-truth society.

    “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”
    “What I feel is true.”
    “What I experience is true.”
    “I find truth by turning inward.”

    Can there be anything more audacious and arrogant than ignoring thousands of years of history and making ourselves gods, declaring our understanding to be superior to that of the billions of people who have walked our planet?

    Our authority is God and His Word, the Bible. As I have said, I’m not the authority. I am an authority, but not the authority. If anything I say contradicts scripture, call me out on it.

    I admit, our government has not always been trustworthy, which is necessary for truth.
    I admit, our media has not always been trustworthy.
    I admit, social media has not always been trustworthy. Can you say, “Fake news?”
    I admit, religious leaders have not always been trustworthy.

    But I want to suggest to you that God is trustworthy, God’s Word is trustworthy, and they have never failed.

    One of my favorite biblical characters is Peter. Sure, he gets a bad rap—he denied Jesus three times, after all—but he grew and matured and shaped the movement Jesus began. In his first letter to the early church, he wrote,

    Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)

    As we mentioned last week, Peter did not have 66 leather-bound books. He did have access to the Old Testament books. He had heard many sermons. Most of all, he had spent three years with The Truth, Jesus Christ, the word, the Greek word “logos.” Peter literally knew the Truth, the Messiah. By following Jesus, by obeying God’s teachings, he was becoming purified. He was becoming like Jesus. He was exhibiting sincere love, and taught others to do the same.

    He had not been transformed from a loose-lipped hot head to a brilliant leader by watching self-help videos on YouTube or by attending a motivational seminar. No, he had become born again—a new creation—through the imperishable, living, enduring word of God. Psalm 119 asks,

    How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
    I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
    I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:9-11)

    The Bible is a miracle. It has been banned by many regimes. Translators have died as martyrs. It has transcended cultures and continents. It has stood the test of time—not merely centuries but thousands of years. Although it was written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages—Hebrew, Greek, and a bit of Aramaic, it is remarkably cohesive and consistent in telling a beautiful love story between a Creator and His creation, between God and humanity. Peter continued…

    “All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
    the grass withers and the flowers fall, 1Peter 1:24
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

    And this is the word that was preached to you. 1Peter 1:25
    But is it true? Can you trust it? What about all of the Bible’s critics?

    Well, if truth is merely that which you want it to be, that which is internal, I’d encourage you to just say the Bible is true and that’ll be good enough, right?

    All kidding aside, no other book has been so controversial, transformative, or scrutinized. It’s reliability and sustainability is miles beyond any other piece of literature in history.

    Obviously there’s no way I can thoroughly “prove” the Bible is true, but as you saw in the video, God has remarkably preserved His Word.

    Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalms 119:89)

    Banning, burning, and critiquing the Bible haven’t extinguished its popularity or power.

    Jesus said,

    Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:31)

    For two thousand years, the words of Jesus have endured. They have transformed lives. They have changed the world.

    The story of our Bible is fascinating. Long before the printing press, scribes meticulously copied the texts. They had to ensure each letter was exact or else they would destroy their work and start over. These scribes were willing to die to defend and preserve it. When an OT manuscript wore out, the Jewish scribes burned or buried it.

    Perhaps you’ve heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was privileged to visit the place in Israel where they were discovered. In the 1940s, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Old Testament Hebrew manuscripts dating back to 100 BC, over 1000 years older than any previously known manuscripts. When compared, they were nearly identical, with most of the minor differences being the spelling of words.

    The Bible we have, family, is extremely close to the original texts, with virtually no discrepancies in the messages and meaning, just grammatical differences.

    Jesus said,

    For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)

    Last week I said some people say they don’t believe the Bible but have never read it. Equally disconcerting is some people say they do believe the Bible but have never read it.

    There are numerous accounts of people who didn’t believe the Bible, sought to disprove it, and concluded the Bible is true!

    The recent movie,
    The Case for Christ, is a true story of journalist Lee Strobel’s journey from atheist to pastor.

    Josh McDowell is another best-selling author who had a similar path to faith.

    I’ve read the Bible and read
    about the Bible quite extensively. In my undergrad, grad, and doctoral studies, I’ve never encountered anything like it. It’s extraordinary. It better be since I’ve built my entire life on it and its chief subject, Jesus Christ!

    What we hold in our hands and on our devices is so precious, so profound, so powerful. We possess the very words of Almighty God, Creator of the universe. He’s reliable. He’s trustworthy. He’s true. And so is the Bible, God’s Word.

    So What?

    But what about you? Have you read the Bible? Have you let it read you?

    If you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, I urge you to do so. If you’re not ready today, that’s fine, but I beg you to investigate. Ask questions. Seek answers. Read the Bible.

    Let me go a step beyond “read the Bible” and say, “Study the Bible.” It’s a big book—or shall I say collection of books. Perhaps the best tool—besides a Bible in a translation you can read and understand—is a study Bible. Two of my favorites are the
    NIV Study Bible and the Life Application Bible. They include notes corresponding to the text which help you understand the background and context.

    Online, the YouVersion app is loaded with free resources. Mission 119 is another free app with daily readings and devotions, something our church has been using throughout this year.

    Get in a group. The Bible was not meant to be read alone, in isolation. Yes, personal Bible study is essential, but reading and studying in community helps avoid misinterpretations. It engages the mind, heart and hands as we explore the texts together and make application. It spurs one another on toward obedience.

    If you’re not in a group, I invite you to join ours at 9 AM across the street in the Fellowship Hall. We are all at various stages in our spiritual journey, exploring God’s Word together. New small groups will be launching in the next few weeks. A directory of groups can be found at our Information Center kiosk and at the bottom of the weekly
    FAC Focus e-newsletter each Wednesday.

    Finally, I want to remind you of the most important resource in studying the Bible—the Holy Spirit. Jesus once was talking with his friends and said

    “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

    The Holy Spirit guides us into all the truth. He is the Spirit of truth. It’s like an air mattress. It can function without air, but not well! It’s designed to be filled. The same is true for the Bible. We can read it as literature, but the Holy Spirit brings it to life.

    Apart from the Holy Spirit, we cannot fully understand the Scriptures. The Spirit provides an anointing, an illumination, an ability to truly understand the Bible. John wrote,

    But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth…As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:20, 27)

    That’s the bottom line, family. Remain in Jesus. Remain in His Word. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you, to guide you into all truth, to enhance your understanding and obedience of the Bible. It has been carefully preserved for us to study and apply.

    Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalms 119:105)

    some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Divine Truth, 12 August 2018

    Divine Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    2 Timothy 3:12-17

    Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

    Big Idea: The Bible is God’s message to all humans, revealing Jesus, the truth.


    Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

    Jesus had already declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

    Our August series,
    Truth on Trial, is a look at how God reveals Himself to us.

    Last week we said general revelation is God speaking through creation:

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

    Every creation has a creator. You can’t get something from nothing. Now theoretically speaking, some scientists from the University of Michigan have said you can conjure particles from a vacuum under the right conditions, but actually even then their “nothing” is something, according to Popular Science magazine.

    This building had a creator…or creators. It didn’t just appear one day. This space reflects the creativity of its creators.

    Someone designed and created my shoes. The same can be said for my phone and car and drinking mug. Music and paintings and sculptures all reflect their artist.

    If you look at
    nature, you will see incredible examples of God’s creativity. I know, there are some who believe this is all one big cosmic accident or that aliens are responsible for our universe (seriously!), but I choose to believe in a Creator…and Romans 1:20 affirms it.

    But last week we said there’s another way God speaks, another source of truth. We call it special revelation. Special revelation refers to God revealing Himself through supernatural means, including dreams, visions, physical appearances, the Bible, and most of all Jesus. Our focus last Sunday was on Jesus. He is the truth. God is true. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is true. Jesus is truth. He makes the rules. We follow them…or suffer the consequences.

    Today we turn our attention to another type of special revelation—the Bible. Is it truth? Can we trust it? How do we study it? What is its purpose?

    What is the Bible, and why should I care? I’m glad you asked!

    I was raised to believe in the importance of reading the Bible. As a child, I didn’t understand a lot of it, but I was told—like vitamins—it was just good for me.

    It could’ve been worse! I could’ve been raised Catholic during the era of the Latin Mass, sitting through Sunday after Sunday unable to understand a single word spoken!

    The Bible is not a book, but rather a collection of books. There are 66 books, written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages—Hebrew, Greek, and a bit of Aramaic. The authors were kings, leaders, servants, and everything in between. There are poems, stories, wisdom, prophecies, and instructions. Yet for all of its diversity, it has a marvelous unity to it. I don’t think its an overstatement to call it a miracle.

    The Bible is the most popular book in history. If included in the NY Times bestseller list, it would be number one every single year.

    It is the most powerful book in history. Millions of lives have been transformed by these writings.

    It is the most precious book in history. People have devoted their lives to translating it into more languages than any other book in history, some even dying for the right to do so or acquire copies of it.

    But despite its uniqueness among other books—sacred or secular—its purpose is most important. The Bible is a fantastic tool we have for understanding Jesus…and ourselves. It addresses life’s most fundamental questions, including origin, meaning, morality, purpose, hope, love, and eternity.

    My friend Alex is often asked how he knows the Bible is true. He says, “If it’s not, it should be!” There’s nothing like it. Nothing!

    Today’s scripture reading offers both a brilliant declaration about the Bible along with an important message for how to read the Bible. Paul is writing to his apprentice, Timothy. He writes,

    In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:12-17)

    These last two verses are the most popular in this text.

    All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    Some have wrongly concluded the Bible was dictated by God to its authors, the breath of God turning into words on a page. Others seem to feel the Bible itself becomes God. Some have tragically turned the Trinity into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. Our English vocabulary fails to perfectly describe the original Greek word. Some have translated it “God-spirited.” We naturally jump to thinking Paul is referring to the 66 books we have in our leather-bound Bibles, but since the New Testament had not yet been compiled, he is speaking of the Old Testament and, no doubt, oral sources. This phrase “God-breathed” or “God-spirited” is unique not only in the Bible but also in Greek literature before Paul’s time. He was likely creating a word picture to convey the idea that God’s Spirit is behind the images and narratives we have in Scripture.

    That alone makes the Bible unique. People put pen to paper—or papyrus—but the Bible is God-inspired. If that’s true, we can say Scripture is God’s divine truth. It is unlike any other piece of literature. Human authors wrote it, but they were filled and inspired by God the Holy Spirit.

    Peter wrote,

    Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

    The Alliance Statement of Faith says,

    Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.

    As I stated last Sunday, I am not the authority at First Alliance Church, nor is our District Superintendent, Thomas George, or the Alliance President, Dr. John Stumbo. Because the Bible was inspired by God, it is our best source of special revelation, that which reveals God to us. God is our authority. Jesus is our Senior Pastor. The Bible is the best tool we have for learning about God…in order to know God.

    You can read a biography of George Washington and learn about him, but it won’t lead to a relationship with him.

    The Bible contains four biographies of Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—but it provides so much more than facts. Taken as a whole, the Bible is a beautiful narrative, a love story of God and humanity.

    I find it simply astonishing that the Creator of the universe would speak to us, not only through creation, but through the Bible and Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

    Listen to the Father’s heart as recorded in the book of Jeremiah the prophet:

    Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)

    God speaks through Jesus and the Bible so that we might know Him, not just about Him. He wants us to find Him! He wants us to know Him! The Bible is not to be approached as an encyclopedia to acquire facts, but rather a love letter to build a relationship. Yes, there are facts and instructions, stories and prophecies, but the overarching message is that of a Father to His children, expressing His character, love, and desires, inviting them into a deeper relationship with Himself while challenging them to obey and follow.

    So What?

    If the Bible is divine, we must read it…and obey. Jesus’ half brother, James, stated it so plainly.

    Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

    We read and study the Bible to know God and to know God’s will for our lives and to obey him. This idea of obedience is not politically correct in our society. We like to do our own thing. We like to create our own rules, be our own person, do what feels good, and pursue individual happiness. That works…until it doesn’t! If God is God, He knows best. I love these words from God to Job:

      “Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
    Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.

      “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much.
    Who determined its dimensions
    and stretched out the surveying line?
    What supports its foundations,
    and who laid its cornerstone
    as the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

      “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries
    as it burst from the womb,
    and as I clothed it with clouds
    and wrapped it in thick darkness?
    For I locked it behind barred gates,
    limiting its shores.
    I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.
    Here your proud waves must stop!’

      “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
    and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
    Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth,
    to bring an end to the night’s wickedness?
    As the light approaches,
    the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal;
    it is robed in brilliant colors.
    The light disturbs the wicked
    and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

      “Have you explored the springs from which the seas come?
    Have you explored their depths?
    Do you know where the gates of death are located?
    Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?
    Do you realize the extent of the earth?
    Tell me about it if you know!

    That’s just the beginning, but you get the idea! If God is God, He knows best. He makes the rules. He is the authority. We can choose to follow God and His Word or follow our own sinful desires and suffer the consequences.

    It amazes me how many so-called Christians have complete disregard for the Bible. They like the idea of God and His love, but ignore His wisdom, His will, His instructions. I have one friend who claims to follow God yet is choosing to deliberately violate the clear teachings of the Bible because…He thinks He knows better than God?

    Family, we all mess up, we fall…and we are to get up. I’m not talking struggles with sin. I’m speaking of willfully picking and choosing things from the Bible. It’s not a buffet! Either the Bible is true and authoritative or it’s not.

    We often struggle with the commands:

    • - Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:18; Mark 12:31)
    • - Care for the hungry, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner (Matthew 25:40)
    • - If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it (Matthew 16:25)
    • - Whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery (Matthew 5:27-32; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18)
    • - You must be perfect (Matthew 5:48)
    • - The last will be first, and the first last (Matthew 20:1-16)
    • - Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1-6)
    • - Renounce all your possessions (Luke 14:33)
    • - Abstain from all sexual immorality (Matthew 15:19; Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 6:18)
    • - Do not lie (Leviticus 19:11)
    • - No other gods, including the person in the mirror (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7)
    • - Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Mark 10:43)

    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.”

    For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

    Here’s my simple challenge to you: read the Bible this week!

    Read it on your phone. The YouVersion website and app are totally free.
    Listen to it on your phone. The YouVersion website and app are totally free.
    Study with Pastor Soper at Mission 119. The website and app are totally free.
    Grab a copy of the New Living Translation of the Bible at our Information Center. Free!

    Read a verse. A chapter. A book. A great place to start is the book of Mark. It’s the shortest biography of Jesus.

    If you want a challenge to your lifestyle, read the book of James. It will rock your world.

    Looking for a way to connect with God in praise? Study the Psalms.

    Jesus said,

    My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

    Do you know Jesus? Do you know His voice? The Bible is one of our primary tools for knowing Jesus, hearing His voice, and obediently follow Hiim.

    In closing, most people who say they don’t believe the Bible have never read it! I think most people who say they do believe the Bible have never read it! This is God’s special revelation to us! The Creator of the universe! You owe it to yourself to read it…not for information, but for transformation. It’s all about Jesus!

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Absolute Truth, 5 August 2018

    Absolute Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    John 14:1-7

    Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

    Big Idea: Despite statements to the contrary, absolute truth exists; truth is a Person and his name is Jesus.

    Questions. I love questions. I love asking questions.

    I love it when people ask me questions. I don’t always know the answers, but those are often my favorite questions because I can do research and learn, too.

    When it comes to questions, children are notoriously good at both asking and answering.

    Do you like questions?

    I’ve often said the two most important questions in life might be

    • - Who is God?
    • - Who am I?

    Those questions do not exactly appear in the Bible, but there is one question which might be the most brilliant question of all time.

    What do you think it is?

    See, I asked another question!

    The setting is Jesus’ trial. He is standing before Pilate on account of religious leaders who want Jesus crucified, though Pilate cannot understand why. There is a discussion about Jesus being called the King of the Jews.

    “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

    Jesus answered,
    “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

    Then Pilate asks the zinger, the question, maybe the most important question in the Bible.

    “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. John 18:38

    What is truth?

    It’s a simple question with profound implications, especially in a world drowning in information and data. How can you discern fake news from the real stuff? If you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, what can you believe?

    What is truth?

    Many today say there’s no such thing as absolute truth. Is that true? Isn’t saying absolute truth does not exist a statement of absolute truth?

    What is truth?

    In a world where billions of people practice Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism and even atheism, how we do we know Christianity is true?

    Even the realm of science is slippery.

    This Is Why Eating Healthy Is Hard (Time Travel Dietician). Written by Charles (Chuck Armstrong & Charlie Stockman). Directed by Elliot Dickerhoof. Produced by Darren Miller for Funny or Die. Used by Permission.
    What is truth?

    We are devoting this month of August to addressing this fascination question. Are you ready?

    What is truth?

    The dictionary uses words such as “fact,” “reality,” and “honesty” to describe that which is true or truthful.

    It’s easy to be skeptical of things today. How many times have we heard a story about something in the news, only to determine it was fabricated?

    Not only can you not believe everything you hear or read, thanks to Photoshop and other tools, you can’t believe everything you see!

    If you’ll allow me to get philosophical for a moment, one of the problems with true involves language. Words have meaning and that meaning is derived from our interpretation.

    In the 1990’s Stanley Grenz offered “A Primer on Postmodernism,” a book about the emerging post-Enlightenment philosophies influenced by Nietzsche who famously asserted “the death of God.”

    Grenz writes, “Nietzsche claims that there is not truth as such but only relative truths for a certain sort of creature or a certain society. Because all knowledge is a matter of perspective, knowledge is really interpretation—and all interpretations are lies.”
    Words and language have limits, which is why we often find ourselves misunderstood. Here’s a simple example: he is old. What does that mean? If I’m talking to a group of toddlers, I might be referring to a seven year-old. If I’m talking with my step dad, it could be someone in their nineties or later. What does the word “old” mean? It might even mean 200 years old if we’re touring Boston or 2000 years old if we’re in Egypt.
    Stay with me! When we speak of truth, we’re looking for something universal and timeless. If you drop a bowling ball on your foot, it will not be comfortable, no matter if you’re in Toledo or Timbuktu, in 2018 or 1818 or 18 BC (if they had bowling balls back then) because gravity is a universal truth.
    Tensions arise when competing worldviews or scriptures or philosophies claim to be true over and against others. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “What’s true for you isn’t true for me.” That would describe relative truth, a reality based upon a context or individual. I could claim the Mud Hens are the best team in baseball, but surely others would disagree. We could all agree, however, that the Philadelphia Eagles are the 2018 Super Bowl Champions. That’s a fact. That’s true.
    But what about God? Christianity? The Bible? Is it true? How do we know? If the Bible is true, why do so many people interpret it different ways? How can it be trustworthy? How do I know my understanding of God and the Bible is correct?
    We will spend much of our time in this series talking about the Bible, but I want to begin by saying truth is not a religion, a philosophy, or even a book. It’s a person.
    In a conversation with Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve closest friends—the doubting one…

    Jesus answered,
    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

    Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Truth is a Person. Jesus is the truth. God is the truth. Let’s back up a moment and look at the context (something that often gets people in trouble, failing to look at the context of a verse). Jesus is talking to his disciples, his followers, and says,

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

    Jesus equates himself with God. This was radical. Who does he think he is, God or something? Yes!

    Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5)

    Jesus answered,
    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

    Again, Jesus says he and the Father are one. There is mystery to the Trinity, one God in three Persons—Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

    I’m going to make a radical, politically-incorrect statement: God exists. I know church is a shocking context for such a declaration, but I’m feeling a little edgy today! Seriously, though, either God exists or He doesn’t. If God exists and He created our universe, we can safely say He makes the rules.

    It amazes me how many people have the audacity to ask God to conform to their will, rules, and desires when God is…God. We can trust God and His will and word knowing He’s God and we’re not. You can deny His law of gravity and jump off a cliff but you’ll quickly realize there are consequences to doing so, whether you believe in gravity or not.

    Parenthetically, if you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you!

    How do we know God exists? There are two types of revelation, things that reveal God to us. The first is called general revelation. God speaks through creation. Psalm 19 says,

    The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
    They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
    Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
    In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. (Psalms 19:1-4)

    Centuries later Paul wrote to the church in Rome,

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

    Special revelation refers to God revealing Himself through supernatural means, including dreams, visions, physical appearances, the Bible, and most of all Jesus.

    Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is filled with declarations about God’s Word.

    Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalms 119:89)

    Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true. (Psalms 119:142)

    All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal. (Psalms 119:160)

    That’s the God that we serve. His words are true. He is true. Jesus is truth.

    So What?

    If God is true, He can be trusted. He wrote the rules. He knows best. Obviously this does not mean we can’t doubt or question God. In the midst of our grieving, we all have plenty of questions for God…and He welcomes them. But we must recognize God is God and we’re not. God is in control and we’re not. God can be trusted. He has been good and faithful from generation to generation and He’s not about to change now.

    You can build your life around what is popular or politically correct, but just like “science,” it is likely to change. I’d think twice about devoting yourself to the lifestyle or teaching of any celebrity, author, or expert. Even pastors such as myself are far from perfect. At FAC, I am not the authority, nor are our elders or District Superintendent or C&MA President. Our authority is Jesus. God, through His Word and example of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, shows us how to live. As Jesus prepared to return to heaven, He said to the Father,

    “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. (John 17:13-19)

    Finally, God’s truth can set us free…free from lies, bondage, sin, and death.

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

    Do you know the truth? It is contained in God’s Word, the Bible, but ultimately truth is a Person—Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Be Holy! 8 November 2015

    Note: This message is similar to one preached at Scio Community Church, September 13, 2015.

    Be Holy!
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 1:13-21

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

    Big Idea: When suffering, we need not only need empathy but also holy action.


    Last week we began our series on 1 Peter, “What In The World Is Going On?” We live in crazy times, amen?

    • - We can kill babies and sell their parts but go crazy if a lion is shot
    • - It’s ok smoke weed but not cigarettes.
    • - Bush might run against Clinton for president!
    • - Women now have wives and men can have a husband.
    • - We are to be tolerant of everything yet offended by everything.

    I’ve heard Christians in the USA talk about suffering and persecution. Perhaps you’ve lost friends over your faith, have been skipped over for a job promotion for following Jesus, or been teased because you love Christ. While I don’t mean to minimize those things, it’s nothing compared to the imprisonment, torture, and even death faced by our brothers and sisters around the world. In recent days, the media has shed light on the horrific actions of ISIS and other groups who have promoted violence, prompted refugees to flee their homelands, and murdered our spiritual siblings.

    The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering. While we all experience trials, Peter—one of Jesus’ three best friends—is writing to scattered peoples fleeing for their freedoms and, in many cases, their very lives. In the first twelve verses of this epistle—or short letter—these exiles are addressed with reminders of their salvation, the temporary nature of their suffering, and hope both now and forever.

    Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

    What is therefore there for? These exiles are suffering and have been given encouragement and hope.

    When you’re suffering, encouragement and hope are wonderful, but something else is needed to prevent despair: action. There are times we are to be still, quiet, reflect, and meditate, but when life gets hard, we can focus inward on our problems and miss out on God’s blessings. Most everything in life begins with our minds, our thoughts.

    I’d be the first to say positive thinking can be overrated, but not always. Paul famously wrote

    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)

    Our actions begin with our mind. Garbage in, garbage out. Purity in, purity out.

    The temptation in suffering is to turn inward and suffer your own suffering, troubling your own trouble. Peter gives them a vision of something greater than the present. God is still on the throne.

    Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. (1 Peter 1:13)

    With minds that are alert and fully sober…what an interesting phrase. It means to prepare your minds for action, literally “gird up the loins of your mind.”

    Some have suggested we translate this passage “taking off the coat” or “rolling up the sleeves” of your mind. Take off your warm-up suit so your mind can move freely.

    Peter is saying maintain a loose grip on this world and a tight grip on what lies ahead. This world is temporary.

    Life is short. Eat dessert first!

    Then he says to make sure your minds are fully sober. This is a metaphor. He’s saying be self-controlled. Drunks cannot control themselves or their bodies. What’s the point of this gird of loins and self-control? Hope! With focused, ready minds “set your hope.”

    Hope is a challenging word because it means so many different things. I can hope to play baseball for the Detroit Tigers or I can hope you like this sermon or I can hope my wife will love me tomorrow. Like faith, the issue isn’t so much with me, but with the object of my hope. Playing for the Tigers is wishful thinking. It’s not going to happen no matter how much I think about it, pray about it, or hope for it. The love of my wife, however, is secure. Although I haven’t experienced tomorrow yet, I am confident in the love my wife has for me and I look forward to being with her tomorrow.

    Peter is saying our hope is in Jesus and His return. We can be sure Jesus is alive and coming back. It has not yet happened. We are waiting, but it is going to happen! There may be pain and trials now but Christ will return and justice will be served.

    1 Peter 1:14…

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

    Although our culture likes to talk about how things are not black and white but gray, the Bible is filled with contrasts: hot or cold, good or evil, heaven or hell. Every day we can choose to follow the world or God. We can reflect society’s consumerism and individualism or we can reflect God and His character, His nature, His holiness.

    There’s a lot of opinions in our world about right and wrong…or if there is any such thing. One of the tenants of postmodern philosophy is the belief that since words are subjective, there is no such thing as absolute truth.

    Of course the problem with saying there is no such thing as absolute truth is it is a declaration that the statement itself is true!

    Truth. This has been the dilemma of our court system. Who is right? What is ok? Abortion? Marijuana? Gay marriage? Adultery? Sharing a Netflix account with a friend? Pornography? Human cloning?

    Ethics originate from within ourselves (conscience, reasons, nature) or from outside ourselves (the Constitution, revelation, codes of ethics). Scot McKnight writes

    Christian orthodoxy teaches that ethics flows from salvation and that humans, by themselves, cannot discern the will of God—for personal salvation, for personal ethics, or for the social order. We know God’s will because in his grace he has made his will known to us through his revelation, the Bible being the primary mode of this revelation. The same construction applies to our knowledge of ethics: We know what is good from what is bad because God has told us in his Word, beginning with the Mosaic legislation and climaxing in the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic testimony.

    Our text for today is quite explicit in this, distinguishing between evil desires of the world and holiness, reflecting God. Holy means “set apart” or “different.” It’s not necessarily saying perfection—though God is perfect and we are not—but different, unique, special. We are to be holy because we have been changed and because we are children of a holy God. Kids are like their parents (sorry kids!). Obedient children follow Daddy. We were children of the devil, the world, following its ways. Now we are to be obedient children of God, walking in holiness, imitating Jesus.

    We are
    called to be holy. As Jesus called Peter to follow Him, so also He is calling us to be holy and follow His example.

    Notice, too, Peter says, “It is written.” The Word of God is powerful. Do you know it? Do you read it? Do you live it? An hour on Sunday isn’t going to make up for the 167 hours you’re in the world, absorbing its messages of selfishness and pride. As Warren Wiersbe says,

    The Word reveals

    God’s mind, so we should learn it.
    God’s heart, so we should love it.
    God’s will, so we should live it.

    Author John Eldridge wrote, “Our journey to holiness is the process whereby we receive more and more of the holiness of Jesus Christ into more and more of our being…In fact, the assumption of the New Testament is that you cannot become whole without becoming holy; nor can you become holy without becoming whole. The two go hand in hand.”

    In order to make humans what they are meant to be the love of God seeks to make us whole and holy. We are not holy because of what we do for God, we are made holy because of what God has done for us.

    Are you an obedient child of God?

    When I reflect upon God’s holiness and my sin I realize I am desperate for Him.
    When I recognize God’s power and my weakness I realize I am desperate for HIm.
    This is why worship is so important.

    When I am desperate for God, I spend time with Him.
    When I spend time with Him, I know Him.
    When I know Him, I love Him.
    When I love Him, I obey Him.

    Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:17)

    This fear does not mean anxiety or scary, but rather awe. Dad is watching us now, and one day He will judge each of us. We can have awe or desire the approval of the world as citizens or we can be in awe of and seek the Father as foreigners; visitors.

    For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)

    We have been redeemed, purchased with a price. Jesus died, shedding His blood for us. Our redemption makes us grateful for not only forgiveness but adoption into our new family and a desire to live in holiness and awe before God.

    Our Father is the standard. He is holy. He shows us through Jesus what it means to truly be human, to live as we were created to live, full of faith, hope and love. He shows us the benefits of salvation, an eternal hope that cannot be taken away.

    So What?

    Is your faith and hope in God…or in the stock market?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your friends?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your job?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your social media popularity?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your stuff…the house, the cars, the vacations?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in our president, governor, or political party?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your gifts, talents and abilities?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your education and diplomas?

    Is your faith and hope in the present…or in the future?

    Peter encourages us to be aware of the future—God’s righteous judgment of our lives and also the hope of the joy of final salvation. The best is yet to come.


    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.

    2 John, 24 August 2014

    Big Idea: Truth and love must consume the lives of every Christ-follower.

    This series is designed to encourage reading the less-read books of the Bible (according to

    Overview: John briefly encourages a “chosen lady” to walk in truth, love, and obedience. He warns her about deceivers, and promises to come explain things in person.


    With the possible exception of a letter of introduction, letters have a context. They have a purpose. The writer wants to communicate a message, often responding to a previous letter or situation. Such is the case with the epistles—or letters—of John. As one of Jesus’ three closest friends and—allegedly—the only one of the eleven disciples that was not martyred, John was a prominent figure in the early movement of Christianity. Notice I did not say the religion of Christianity. It had no million-dollar buildings, global television audiences, or political power. It was a grass-roots movement of faith, hope and love that steadily spread from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the earth.

    Like the telephone game, the message was vulnerable to distortion over time and multiple generations of communication. They did not have the luxury of downloading the YouVersion Bible app and all reading the same verses at the same time. Early Christians were dependent upon Old Testament scrolls and letters, none of which were in the possession of every believer. This allowed self-serving teachers to promote false teachings to serve their agendas.

    Throughout Church history there have been several prominent heresies. Some believed Jesus was God but not human. Others taught Jesus’ humanity while denying His deity. One popular group of false teachers were Docetic, denying the full incarnation of Christ and the necessity of His death on the cross.


    Truth is an essential component of understanding. The Greek word used by John,
    aletheia, means “truth, truthfulness, corresponding to reality.”

    It should come as no surprise that in this environment John uses the word “truth” twenty times in his three short letters.

    In today’s postmodern culture, one common belief is truth is relative. There is no such thing as absolute truth. There are several problems with such a statement, most notably how it declares an absolute truth in its very message—there is no such thing as absolute truth!

    While it is true—pun intended—that some things are gray rather than black and white and messages are often subject to interpretation by the recipient, it does not negate the possibility of universal standards. Ironically many who deny absolute truth cling to science, a methodology that seeks consistent, repeatable results. We can debate whether or not it is true that the Detroit Tigers are a good baseball team or whether or not Lady Gaga is a good singer but I’m rather confident 1+1=2 and if I pour ice-water on my head it will be cold!

    One of the greatest questions in the entire Bible came from the lips of Pilate as Jesus stood before him awaiting execution.

    “What is truth?” Pilate asked. (John 18:38a)

    John answered the question a few chapters earlier when he recorded Jesus’ words:

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

    Truth is more than words or ideas. Truth is a Person. Jesus is the truth. When we know Jesus, we know the truth. Even earlier in his biography of Jesus, John wrote

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

    Today our culture is often blind to the truth. As Jack Nicholason famously said, “Truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

    We say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” “I want to believe whatever I want to believe.” “It doesn’t matter what they have discovered, ignorance is bliss.”

    People in Ferguson, Missouri continue to react to things they have heard in the media, some of which has been deemed incorrect or untruthful.

    Spirituality asks many questions about truth, including some good ones. What religion is true? What holy book is truth? What is the most truthful understanding of a difficult passage?

    My friend, Alex McManus, says if the Bible isn’t true, it should be because it tells the most incredible story in history.

    We don’t have time today to unpack all of the reasons I believe the Bible is true and billions throughout history have embraced it but suffice it to say truth is important. Without it we are lost, which is why many postmodern philosophers seem so detached from reality.

    John obviously cared about truth. He wanted the Person and message of Jesus to spread to every man, woman and child—much as I do today. It was his task as a leader in the early Church to ensure the accuracy of the message.


    Love is the second prominent word in John’s letters. God is love. This does not mean God is nice or God wants us happy, but God is love which means…

    Love means so many things in our English language. We love ice cream, we love our children, and we love God.

    The famous Greek word used by John is agape. It is the active love of God for His Son and His people. It is the love we are to have for God, one another, and even our enemies. It is a love that looks out not for our interests but the interests of others. It is a giving, selfless love.

    2 John

    As we read this letter, truth and love will be repeated. It is not an accident!

    The elder,

    John. He is a church leader and an aged man (likely in his nineties).

    To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth — and not I only, but also all who know the truth — because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: (1-2)

    This may be written to a woman and her children or to a church and its members. The Church is the Bride of Christ.

    Truth is prominent. The truth is both the Word of God—the Bible—and Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is also writing to early believers.

    We are not to love the world. We are not to love sin.

    Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse the world with the truth. Our culture shapes us into conformity. It’s incredible how many so-called Christians have beliefs and practices that oppose the politically incorrect teachings of God. We can rationalize anything—especially if “everybody is doing it”—and we do!

    We can’t have it both ways, friends. We can follow Jesus—the truth—or the world.

    Remember, following the world isn’t accidental. We have a very real enemy that wants to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and lies are one of his greatest tools. That’s why we must know the truth. We must read the truth. We must discuss the truth. We must spend time with Jesus, the truth.

    The light and the truth is the Word of God. Love and truth are inseparable. God is love. Jesus is Truth. We need to stand for the truth of God. We might be the only ones, but God will honor us for our faithfulness—and others around us might just discover the truth for the first time.

    Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. (3)

    Grace. mercy. peace. truth. love. What a great list!

    But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

    Mercy is that in God which provided for the need of sinful man.

    John 3:16

    God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

    God has to be righteous and just. How did He become righteous and just? His mercy provided a Savior. Why? Because He loves us.

    And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

    It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (4-6)

    Walking/Walk/Walk. Truth is essential. Walk is essential.

    When I lived in Chicagoland I was in a band called Walk the Walk. We all know how easy it is to talk the talk, but walking the walk is something else entirely. Oh that we would all walk in the truth and not just talk about it.

    God’s love language is obedience. Love is obedience. Obedience is love. We are to walk in that love. We are to live in that love. We are to share that love in word and deed.

    John says this is old news. We are to love another. This is not mushy love or erotic love but agape love, unconditional love that looks out for the best interest of the other person.

    What message would we send to Scio Township and the entire community if we loved one another well? It thrills me to hear about people loving one another, serving one another, helping one another, giving time and money to one another, encouraging one another, praying together, enjoying one another. That’s God’s design for the Church and for all of His children—that we love one another. We can’t run and hide and love God in a closet. We were created for community—messy community! I need you and you need me. We need to walk in love—together.

    Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (7-11)

    This is a huge warning. Last week we saw John emphasize the importance of hospitality—welcoming the stranger, especially traveling teachers. Here he says not all traveling teachers are worthy of hospitality. There were—and are—those who do not speak the truth. They do not know the truth. The speak heresy and falsehoods. They make people feel good but don’t communicate the deeper, more challenging things of God…like that hip and trendy message to DIE!

    Aren’t we supposed to love our enemies? Yes. We must be careful with those who will lead us and others astray, though. You might love your uncle or aunt but not want them to spend extended time with your kids if they are a bad influence. John is warning these early Christians that not everyone is on the same team. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are those who may claim to follow Jesus that teach and live a different gospel, a different “good news,” a different message.

    Specifically, these false teachers denied Jesus as “coming in the flesh.” Today there are many non-Christians that believe in Jesus, but what do they believe? Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but deny He ever actually died on the cross. If He didn’t die, the rest of the story is a waste! The Quran says Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God or claimed divinity. Don’t miss this—our faith has much in common with Islam, but many tremendous differences. I mention this because we can engage in dialog with people of other faiths and find common ground. We must discern, however, where the differences lie, respectfully disagree, and cast a compelling vision for a faith that features the Son of God who set aside His divinity to become one of us—fully human—who died and rose from the dead.

    At the risk of over-complicating the nuances of our faith, let’s turn to the Apostle’s Creed, a series of statements from the 4th century that have served as something of a summary of our faith for hundreds of years:

    1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
    2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
    3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
    4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
    5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
    6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
    7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
    8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
    9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
    10. The forgiveness of sins:
    11. The resurrection of the body:
    12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

    John concludes…

    I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (12)

    The children of your chosen sister send their greetings. (13)

    These are personal greetings. This was a short letter, perhaps because he had limited paper and ink. He made his points…truth and love.

    So What?

    Hopefully the application to all of this is obvious—we must know the truth and live lives of love. Truth and love go together. Truth is expressed in love. Love is always concerned about the truth. Obedience to God necessitates both. We must be aware of counterfeit Christians and false teachings while declaring the truth with our words and deeds to bring honor to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

    Credits: some ideas from J. Vernon McGee

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

    Jude, 20 July 2014

    Big Idea: Know the Truth and He will set you free!

    Overview: Jude warns believers that certain ungodly people are creeping into the church, distorting the grace of God, and denying Jesus Christ.


    Are you protected? Do you use protection? For many years we have been warned to guard against…computer viruses. They can sneak onto our computers and wreak all sorts of havoc with our valuable information—or so I’ve been told! I won’t contribute to the endless Mac versus PC debate, but I happen to know many who have had computers infected with viruses. How do they occur? It could be through software that is installed on the machine. Sometimes they are e-mail attachments that are activated when opened. It’s important to be on alert, pay attention to what you open and install on your computer, and generally a good idea to have some type of antivirus protection on your device.

    Today we continue our series The Most Unread Books of The Bible, a survey of some of the least-read Bible texts according to

    We began with
    Jonah. Last week we looked at another prophet, Joel. Today we examine another “J”—Jude.

    Jude is one of a handful of books that are comprised of a single chapter.

    genre: epistle/letter
    between 70 and 80 AD

    The big idea of Jude is to be on guard against those who want to corrupt your faith and, therefore, your life. It continues to amaze me how relevant a two thousand year-old book can be in our progressive, 21st century culture.

    Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, (1a)

    Jude is not only the brother of James, he is also the half brother of Jesus, though he does not consider himself an apostle (v. 17).

    To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ:

    Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

    Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

    Notice the intentionality behind their actions. These are not uneducated, naive people. They are on a mission. They are secretive. They are subtle. They are godless. They change God’s grace, promote immorality, and deny Christ. They are false teachers, heretics, and liars. Have you ever encountered one? They’re all around! They take the Scriptures and twist them, distort them, and rip them out of context to be manipulated for their purposes. We should not be surprised. Satan did the exact same thing to Jesus while He was fasting in the desert for forty days.

    Satan quoted Scripture!

    He knows the Bible better than most of us!

    The messages sound so good, so positive, so affirming, so politically correct.

    “God helps those who help themselves.” Where is that in the Bible?

    “God made me this way.” He created you and me, but we are all broken because of sin and The Fall, desperately in need of transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    “God loves everyone.” Yes He does, so much so that He wants what’s best for us which is often uncomfortable at the moment for our growth and future benefit.

    “God wants me happy.” He is more concerned about Your relationship with Him and others than your temporary pleasure.

    “God will forgive me.” Followers of Jesus are forgiven because of what Christ did on the cross, but that does not mean there won’t be painful consequences for our rebellion against God and others.

    “God wants me rich.” He does want to bless us, but it may not be the way we envision and when we envision. His greatest blessings will be eternity with Him.

    “I need to do great things for God so He will love me.” You’re already loved. We love Him and obey Him as a response because He first loved us. All of the social activism in the world won’t cause Him to love You any more than He already does.

    Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home — these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (5-7)

    Jude says they already knew this, yet he offers a reminder of the consequences of sin. Tragically, many today think of Sodom and Gomorrah as an imaginary place that never existed—or worse, a place they’d like to visit. As Jude says, it was filled with sexual immorality and perversion and there are consequences—the punishment of eternal fire. The more I listen to the messages of our culture, the more it seems like we are told to seek immediate pleasure at all times. Nobody mentions responsibility, consequences, others, or even the radical idea of waiting, saving, delaying, or sacrificing now for rewards later. We not only want instant news, coffee, downloads, and entertainment, we want instant experiences, pleasures, and our every desire on demand.

    Let me offer my most offensive statement of the day:

    It’s not all about you!!!

    I know that’s what we’re told, 24/7/365. I know it’s the prevailing message in our culture. I know every decision we make must first go through the “what’s in it for me?” filter, but it’s a lie!

    The worst is when the religion of consumerism invades our relationship with God. I will love and serve God as long as He loves and serves me. I will go to church as long as I get something out of it. I will volunteer when it’s convenient and makes me feel good about myself. I’ll gladly share my leftovers of my time, talents and treasures with God if there is any!

    In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals — these are the very things that destroy them.

    Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. (11)

    These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm — shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted — twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. (12-13)

    Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (14-16)

    But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (17-19)

    So what?

    But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (20-21)

    Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear — hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (22-23)

    To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (24-25)


    We are to guard our hearts against the devil’s schemes. They can be subtle. We need the full armor of God as we daily engage with the forces of God and the forces of evil whose mission is to steal, kill and destroy.

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