Beyond 2020: Vision Sunday, 20, September 2020

Beyond 2020: Vision Sunday

Big Idea: God is leading us to multiply and do life together.

On September 15, 2019, I presented a message entitled, Back to our Roots: 2020 Vision. Like many pastors across the country, I shared my excited about the year ahead, our new mission statement, and our commitment to The Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ. With our experimental Dinner Church taking off, new people were joining our church family, lives were being transformed, ministries were growing, unity was rising, …and then COVID.

Like many of you, I was concerned about the physical impact of the pandemic. To date, about 200,000 USAmericans have died because of this invisible virus and millions more sick. The lockdown created a devastating financial impact to many, though some actually benefitted through $1200 checks and extra unemployment payments. Our entertainment options were virtually eliminated unless it involved a screen.

My prayer during the initial days of COVID-19 was, “LORD, may this pandemic bring revival in our nation and world. May people fall to their knees, crying out for help, and seeking life in Jesus-centered churches. We are ready to share faith, hope, and love and this is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be salt and light, to live out your mission to seek and save the lost.”

Instead of seizing the opportunity to BE the church, “politics and social unrest have divided congregations and social media has intensified the hostilities,” to quote Lifeway Research. Here are three responses to their survey of pastors:

“People’s attitudes have split very much on partisan lines. Half the church is opposed to any reopening. Half the church is frustrated that we haven’t long since reopened.”

“I am aware that people are growing weary of the entire pandemic. Some are scared to death, while others are convinced it is a hoax. Trying to minister to both ends of the spectrum is exhausting.”

“Many of our congregants are still scared and unwilling to come out of their houses. No matter what we choose to do for safety, or choose not do, we are told by some group that it is too much/not enough.”

I’d like to think First Alliance Church would be the exception, but we’ve had our fair share of division, mumbling and complaining, rebellion, and some even leaving the church. It’s as if the very opportunity to love well and fulfil our mission has been a season of negativity, abandonment, controversy, and division.

We can’t let the enemy win! There are lives at stake! There are eternities at stake! Our city and state and nation are at stake! I’m not talking about the election. I’m talking about you and me, fixing our eyes on Jesus, lifting our arms in surrender, listening to the still, small voice of the LORD, using our hands to heal, our wallets to bless, our hearts to care, and our lives to love.

Through all of this, I’ve never been more excited about the future of First Alliance. The opportunities have been growing. God has been moving. And I can’t wait to share what’s ahead!

I love First Alliance Church. God has been moving in and through this congregation for generations. We have a rich heritage, a storied history, and an exciting future. When I was interviewed for the lead pastor position in the summer of 2015, I was told, “We want change,” which I knew was not entirely true! Change can be difficult, yet it’s often necessary.

I remember being asked repeatedly during my first days here, “What’s your vision for First Alliance, pastor?” At the time, I had no vision. I didn’t even know where I was! It took a solid year just to realize I wasn’t in Ann Arbor anymore! Throughout these nearly five years, I’ve rejoiced as we’ve welcomed new members and new believers. I’ve celebrated countless wins with our staff, elders, and all of you. I’ve been deeply saddened when people have left…some due to death, others to relocation, and still others due to a different vision.

Throughout this half-decade, we’ve sought direction, protection, passion, and unity as we look to Jesus, our Senior Pastor, to guide us. This is His Church! We’re all going to leave it someday, but he will be here for future generations, LORD-willing. He promised to build his Church and said the gates of hell would not overcome it (Matthew 16:18).

During my time in Toledo, it has been my desire to develop a mission, vision, and strategy for First Alliance that would bring clarity, focus, and alignment for us. Setting aside personal preferences,
where is Jesus leading us?

By definition, Jesus doesn’t lead us to stay the same. Personal growth is hard. It is incremental, over time, with people, and for people. There are growing pains. We find ourselves challenged, pushed beyond what we believe to be our limits, and even feel alone, at times.

The same is true for First Alliance.
Jesus is leading us to new places with an unchanging message. Change can be hard, especially when it disrupts our comfort. He is raising up an army of love, not a tribe of beach bums (I love the beach, but the only thing that grows at the beach is your waistline!)! I know many of us long for the good old days—which, by the way, were never as good as we remember them. But God is doing a new thing. He is expanding our vision. He is clarifying our mission. He is building His Church…and you’re invited!

One of the most exciting moments this year came on February 13 when Dr. Bruce Terpstra, director of Church Advance for the Great Lakes District of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, a member of Rev. Thomas George’s team, offered to be my mentor and coach. He suggested a book called
Church Unique as a tool in discerning our unique calling as a church. Toledo is filled with great churches. It has several Alliance churches. But where is God leading First Alliance Church?

Coincidentally—or not—I started using the book a few years ago and even introduced many of our leaders to its questions in a quest to better understand our community—our “Jerusalem”—(Acts 1:8) as well as our church history and present resources and opportunities. Many of you contributed to the process and I’m grateful for all of your input.

One of the first milestones of the process was developing a mission statement which was introduced last year:

We are a Jesus-centered family who?
restoring God’s masterpieces
in Toledo and beyond
for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10) why?

The bottom line is God’s glory. Period. End of story. It’s not about being a big church or a famous church or having the coolest website in the world, it’s about Christ. It’s not about my preferences or your convenience, but it’s all about Jesus. The unique phrase of our mission is taken from Ephesians 2:10…

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

You are a masterpiece. You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Like me, the brilliance that reflects God’s image is covered with sin…which we cover with masks. When we get vulnerable and allow God to chisel away the false self, the masterpiece inside is exposed, the diamond in the rough is able to shine.

That’s what we’re about as a church—helping people take off the masks, repent of their sins, and live into the unique masterpiece God created them to become. That includes me. That includes you. It’s a long, slow, messy process called sanctification, but the end result is stunning.

Everything we do must be with this in mind. Our budget, our facilities, our staff, and our calendar are designed with this in mind.

Although the pandemic has been tragic in many ways—including my arms which are aching from not being able to squeeze my granddaughter as she prepares to be a big sister next month—it has also been a gift for our future. During the lockdown, our physical campus closed and as we moved everything online, it provided a perfect opportunity to assess everything we put on the calendar and its connection to our mission. It has been a time to start new things, restart other things, and leave some things behind, not because they’re bad, but because they don’t optimally serve our mission.

Life Together

About twenty-five years ago, I was at a conference where the speaker asked, “If your church couldn’t gather together for six months, how would you survive?” He had no idea COVID-19 would make that hypothetical question real!

Scholars believe the early church did life together in groups of 30-40 people with no buildings, no professional Christians, persecution…and they exploded in numbers! Much like the Church in China and other parts of the world today, there was no organized religion. It was just life together, 24/7/365. Discipleship wasn’t a class or a program, but a life-on-life experience.

Many churches will close permanently because of the pandemic. The ones that have been most effective were structured no around buildings and large gatherings, but small groups doing life together. That has included doing church online together.

I love our beautiful campus. I’m grateful for this fantastic building and our other two facilities. I am thankful for the freedom we have to assemble here for weekly family reunions…but the building is not the church. This event is not the church. We are the church…wherever and whenever we gather.

I’ve been so encouraged by people who have said they feel more connected to First Alliance now than before COVID-19. As we’ve gathered online, sent letters of encouragement, prayed for one another, served one another, eaten in homes with one another, and called one another, we’ve discovered the joy of life together.

I wish the pandemic was over and we could be guarantee safe gatherings for everyone, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. It’s possible things will get worse before they get better. But the church has never been a building. The building is nothing more than a tool used to accomplish God’s mission for His church.

Out of respect for our senior saints who have been together for decades at 9 AM, we have restarted their Sunday School class at 9 AM in the Youth Center. But I want to suggest a slightly different next-step for the rest of you…
Life Groups.

I really want to call them Life Together Groups, but that’s awkward! Rather than a class where you take notes for an hour, a Life Group is a 168 hour/week family. Many of you have been a part of small groups in the past, and this isn’t necessarily different, but the focus is not just a weekly meeting, but life together. They can meet on Sundays at 9 AM on our campus, in homes in the evening, at coffee shops or schools or wherever and whenever the group wants to study the Bible together, pray for one another, and serve together. If the focus of First Alliance is on an hour a week, we will be spiritually malnourished. If we can conceive of doing life together, discipleship will become a way of life.

We’ve often talked about the triangle: connecting with God (up), one another (in), and our world (out). Life Groups do all three. They are committed to worship, prayer, and scripture. They engage in life-on-life discipleship. They also serve together, whether it’s once a month at Cherry Street Mission as Jerry Olah’s group has done or helping a neighbor in need, hosting a Dinner Church gathering when we resume them, or any number of selfless activities to bless others.

There’s one other component of Life Groups which is vital and that leads to our other word for the day…


The first command of the Bible is “be fruitful and multiply.” Healthy things grow and reproduce. In recent history, much church activity has centered around addition…getting people to come to classes, services, concerts, conferences, and events. That’s great, but what’s even more powerful than addition is multiplication.

The Great Commission is one of our guiding scriptures.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus said to go and make disciples. Discipleship is making disciples. It is a follower. Disciples of Jesus—by definition—make disciples. It’s easy to see how he did it. He called a dozen men to live with him for three years. Most of us don’t have that luxury—though parents, you have about eighteen years to disciple your children.

My favorite verse on discipleship is in 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul says to his apprentice, Timothy…

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

There are four generations in this one verse! Paul to Timothy to reliable people to others. We are all called to make disciples who make disciples. This isn’t a pastor or clergy thing. It’s all of our calling, and it’s what restoring God’s masterpieces is all about…reproducing the life of Jesus in others.

Each Life Group has a leader and an apprentice leader for the purpose of multiplying the group. We want Life Groups to welcome new members, grow, and reproduce. An apprentice leader will receive training, experience, and be equipped to either start a new Life Group or take over the group as the leader launches a new Life Group. We will provide training for Life Group leaders and apprentices.

Groups often fear multiplication because they like to be together. However, without reproducing new groups, we can never grow. We need to develop new leaders who can launch new groups to disciple more people. The best way to develop new leaders is to have them serve as apprentice leaders with the intention of someday leading their own group. When Life Groups multiply, there’s no rule that says they can’t get together to serve…or just have a party!

We want to start—and restart—Life Groups this fall. To do so, we need Life Group leaders and apprentices. No experience necessary! A love for Jesus and a love for people is required. We’ll provide the resources. Being a leader or apprentice does not necessarily obligate you to be a host, either. We’d love to see some of you open your homes or offices to host Life Groups. You can have them here on our church campus, too.

A simple next step is to
click here to say you’re interested in hosting, leading, apprenticing, or participating in a Life Group. You can also notify the church office. If you’re already in a Life Group, please let us know that, too. We’d love to see everyone in our First Alliance family connected not only on Sunday morning but throughout the week, too.

This idea of multiply is critical for our future. If we fail to multiply Life Groups…and leaders, ministries, and even churches, we will eventually cease to exist.

I’ve been praying for a future filled with the launch of new groups, churches, ministries, and international workers. To accomplish this, we need interns, residents, and apprentice leaders who can not only assist, but prepare to lead.

The Road Ahead

John Maxwell says everything rises and falls on leadership. I want to devote the rest of my life to developing leaders. I may not be the most skilled, but after thirty years of vocational ministry—and plenty of gray hair—I at least have some experience. I want to equip the next generation of pastors, church planters, and missionaries, both local and global. We’ve had interns in the past who have gone on to do great things, and we want more.

I’m really grateful for our staff. Karen Thompson is more than a secretary. She’s our office manager. Sue Trumbull’s dedication to children and families and Hayden Bewley’s work with our youth and artists is inspiring. Josh Hens continues to take care of our physical campus along with our Trustees, and our newest team member, Abby Kolinski, has been our digital storyteller online and on video. Most of their work has been done behind-the-scenes, yet they are all committed to serving you, equipping you and your family, and restoring God’s masterpieces.

I’m excited to announce the Great Lakes District has connected us to someone the elders interviewed last week to be a church planter in residence. He has a compelling vision for fresh expressions of faith and plans to move here this fall from the east coast to join our team part-time, with funds provided by church planting, the District, a possible grant, and a generous donor. His passion is to multiply disciples of Jesus Christ, restoring God’s masterpieces.

Last week you heard about Abby Segura, the new director of the After School Klub. I’m thrilled about her hiring by Toledo Urban Impact to invest in the next generation.

As we read many of your responses to the
Church Unique questions, it was obvious that ministering to students in this neighborhood is near and dear to your hearts. Rosa Parks, the After School Klub, and Sports & Arts Camp were frequently mentioned as significant ministries…and we’ve been invited into an opportunity which may involve them all!

We’ve been invited to host Toledo Public School students, assisting them with their school work, serving them lunch, and providing a loving atmosphere for learning. The schools are coming to church! Details are being finalized, but we need volunteers to invest in the next generation…through the After School Club, these new Community Learning Centers, and Kids Worship which we want to launch during the Sunday sermon.

So What?

Please prayerfully consider joining, leading, hosting, or apprenticing a Life Group.

Please prayerfully consider volunteering with our students, whether it’s Sunday mornings during the sermon, with the After School Klub next month, supporting Rosa Parks Elementary, or through the upcoming Community Learning Center.

Next Sunday at 10 AM, we will have a brief membership meeting to elect two members to the Nominating Committee. If you are an official church member, we urge you to notify the office of any names you would like submitted for the election to the Nominating Committee. The elders have already appointed Rich Bradish and Greg Papp to join me in preparing the ballot for 2021 officers.

Family, these are crazy times, but they’re not unprecedented. We just haven’t seen them in our lifetime. As the world around is gets more chaotic, I pray they will seek truth…the Way, the Truth, and the Life…Jesus Christ! We are a family centered on Jesus, all about His glory, doing life together, reproducing disciples and groups to let the world know Jesus is LORD.

Please pray for First Alliance Church. Pray that we faithfully follow Jesus. Pray for passion, unity, direction, and protection. Pray for our staff and elders as we navigate through these foggy, messy days and remain focused on our mission to restore God’s masterpieces. They’re all around us. They are increasingly fearful, desperate, and needy. They live without faith, hope, and love. They are the reason we are here. He is the reason we are here!

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

Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast, 2 August 2015

Matthew 13:31-35

Series Overview: this summertime series will examine the various parables of Jesus recorded in thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

Big Idea: The kingdom of God is advancing…whether you see it or not.


Every year at this time the news is lit up—literally—with reports of wildfires. California is especially vulnerable this year because they’ve been having severe drought. Nearly one million acres have been destroyed this year by wildfires…some caused by negligently discarded cigarette.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

The Kingdom

Jesus devoted much of His teachings to the kingdom of heaven. We began our Parables series looking at the sower. Last week we discussed the weeds and wheat. Today we look at two parables that Jesus does not interpret for us, yet two similar stories which have much to teach us today.

Our first parable today is about mustard. Do you like mustard? What do you do with mustard?

Mustard is a condiment. It has no vitamins. It’s one of the few things you can get for free at a ballgame, though it’s hardly satisfying on its own.

Mustard comes from…the grocery store! It comes from a tiny seed. We don’t commonly see seeds—aside from possibly pumpkin or sunflower seeds—but mustard seeds were known in Jesus’ day.

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

Mustard comes from mustard plants. Some have criticized Jesus, saying there are seeds smaller than mustard seeds, but that wasn’t then point. In biblical culture it was known to be the smallest, yet it grew tremendously.

There’s a bit more you should know about mustard seeds. Virtually all seeds produce plants that grow, but according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman author in the first century,

“Mustard… with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it is sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”

Mustard grows big and fast.

John Dominic Crossan states, "The mustard plant is dangerous even when domesticated in the garden, and is deadly when growing wild in the grain fields. And those nesting birds, which may strike us as charming, represented to ancient farmers a permanent danger to the seed and to the grain. The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three, four, or five feet in height. It is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas, where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, is what the Kingdom of God was like. Like a pungent shrub with dangerous take-over properties (
Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography, page 65).

The kingdom is “like a pungent shrub with dangerous take-over properties.”

What would make the kingdom dangerous? It is a threat to satan and the world system. Last week we said the wheat and weeds grow together. Good and evil grow together. The kingdom of God has explosive potential to change people, communities, and even nations.

One writer said this:

Think again though about the people who followed Jesus and the multitudes who lived in the margins of society who had their fields taken away from them by the Roman occupation and the corrupt leaders of the Jewish Temple. “The Kingdom of God will take over where it is not wanted. God shall break into this mess and challenge the oppressors?” the peasants must have pondered with one another. No wonder they followed Jesus.

In the west, we seem to hear only bad news. The church is in decline. People are abandoning the faith. Atheism is on the rise. Young people are less interested in the things of God. At least this is what we are often told.

Perhaps the weeds are growing strong in the west, but the kingdom of God is forcefully advancing around the world.

It took nearly 2,000 years for the gospel to spread from the early church to nearly half the world’s population. In 1900, 45.7 percent of people everywhere were aware of the gospel, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. More than 100 years later, that number has grown to more than 70 percent.

There’s plenty of work to do, but the kingdom of God is advancing like a mustard seed.

By the way, don’t forget two weeks ago we mentioned the birds that came and took away the seeds that were sowed. We have a real enemy, satan, who wants to steal, kill and destroy the mustard seeds and the kingdom of God.

Jesus and His kingdom were a threat to the principalities and powers of His time…and ours.

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)

Some have called this the key parable of the chapter. Interestingly, yeast or leaven is always used in the Bible as a symbol of evil. You may recall the importance of unleavened bread in Jewish life, including the Passover.

Yeast is a fungi that multiplies rapidly through fermentation. Bread rises because of yeast. We usually think negatively about fermentation and fungi, yet Jesus reverses the meaning of yeast to symbolize the positive, hidden movement of the kingdom of heaven in our world.

Today, much of the kingdom of heaven is hidden from our view, much like dough slowly rising. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. In fact, the most radical kingdom activity, heart transformation, begins hidden from our view. It sometimes takes years before the seeds of faith take root, before the effects of the yeast are visible in someone’s life.

It’s amazing how something so small like a cigarette butt can produce such a large wildfire.

It’s amazing how something so small like a mustard seed can produce such a large plant.

It’s amazing how something so small like a bit of yeast can produce such a large loaf of bread.

Michael Wilkins summarizes, “The mustard seed emphasizes an inconspicuous beginning of the kingdom of heaven with its growth into external greatness, while the yeast suggests its inconspicuous permeation and transformation.”

God has a way of doing great things with the small. Jesus Himself may be the greatest example. The Jews believed the Messiah would enter our world with power and greatness. He surprised them. In fact, Jesus’ first visit to our planet was so different than what was expected that most Jews are still waiting for the first arrival of the Messiah. Jesus came to earth as a small baby, virtually unknown except for a few visitors. Yet despite humble beginnings, Christ changed the world.

The prophet Zechariah famously wrote

Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” (Zechariah 4:10)

It doesn’t look like much, but just wait!

Our text for today concludes with these words:

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35)

There has never been a story teller like Jesus for He not only entertained, He spoke truth, His is the truth, and His teachings demanded a response. He repeatedly said, “He who has ears, let him hear” and said those who hear would be blessed. The spiritually alive would become His disciples. The spiritually dead would turn away, some even yelling, “Crucify Him.”

As kingdom people we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (5:13–16), regardless of what is politically correct and popular. The kingdom of God is advancing…whether you see it or not.

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

Motherhood: Woman of God, 28 December 2014

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

Key Scripture: Luke 2:21-52


As a general rule, I don’t like reruns. I don’t like seeing movies for the second time. The reason is simple: I know what’s going to happen.

Of course, sometimes I forget I’ve even
seen the movie! One time I called Heather from the video store (remember those?) and asked if we had seen a particular movie. She said, “We rented it last weekend!” I then asked, “Did we like it?”

There’s nothing like a show for the first time, be it on tv, the movies, or live. On Tuesday we are celebrating Heather’s birthday by going to the Detroit Opera House to see the musical Wicked. It’s her favorite show and we’ve both seen it before…but it will be the first time for two of our kids. It will be great for the three of us who have seen it before, but when you know the ending, the suspense is diminished, the thrill is muted, the mystery is lost.

This is one of the challenges of the Bible. If you’ve read it before, it can become familiar. While it’s great to be comfortable with the truths of God’s Word, as Apuleius said, familiarity breeds contempt. We can miss the awe when we’ve “been there and done that.”


We have two final weeks in our series on Mary. Hopefully you haven’t packed her away in the attic with your nativity set until next December! Giving birth to Jesus—while essential—was just the beginning, not the end of her influence and importance. Sure, the pain of labor and delivery were over, but a host of experiences and emotions lie ahead for her…and Joseph. We are going to take a peek at some today.

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

Does that really say He wasn’t named until the eighth day, even though months earlier they were told what to name Him?

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

Last Sunday we had a child dedication—actually a parent and child dedication. Jesus was dedicated by His parents to the Lord. Fortunately for us, we do not have to slaughter animals in the process, but this was the Old Testament Law.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

Surely this was further confirmation that their child was special—as if they needed further proof following angel visitations, the glory of the Lord shining, choirs of singing angels, strange shepherds visiting the labor and delivery room, and the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

Simeon saw Jesus as the Savior of all, not merely Jews, a radical expansion of God’s redemption promised in the OT (Ps. 98; Is. 49:6).

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

This was a beautiful moment, this righteous man rejoicing at the presence of the Messiah. He praised God, his parents marveled, He blessed the child…and then those nine words to Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Imagine how jarring that sentence must’ve been to this young mom. There was no warning. Simeon didn’t say, “There’s some good news and some bad news. What do you want first?” It’s almost a P.S. “By the way, Mary, your soul will be pierced by a sword. Have a nice day!”

There’s more.

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

We’re introduced to Anna the prophet (a female!) who confirms Jesus as the One, the child.

It often seems the greater the challenge, the greater the clarity required. For instance, if God wants you to sell everything and move to Africa, it may take more than a hunch, a brief thought in the middle of the night after late-night pizza and pop! Such radical action requires great clarity, most likely through multiple messages.

It was critical that Mary and Joseph knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that their Son was special, the Messiah. Many people told them so, including two at His consecration.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. (Luke 2:39)

This verse raised questions for me. Didn’t they get a visit from the Magi and have to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys in accordance with Matthew chapter two? Luke did not feel it was an important detail.

And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. (Luke 2:40)

This is about all we know of Jesus’ childhood…except for one incident…a dozen years later.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (Luke 2:41-48)

The trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem was not a one-time journey for Jesus’ birth. It was an annual affair.

Parents, if you’ve ever lost your child, you know how consuming it can be. Imagine three days of searching!

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

We understand, but you have to admit those words must’ve sounded strange to Mary and Joseph…especially Joseph. “Father? You don’t know your father? Hello!”

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

Jesus grew and Mary treasured all these things in her heart.

I believe Mary was a great mom. She certainly had huge challenges, yet she persevered. She raised a boy with a Messiah complex! She was forever known as conceiving before marriage. It is thought that her husband died young, though the Bible is not explicit about this. We are told she had other children (who must’ve struggled to live up to the expectations of Jesus; “why can’t you be more like your brother?” “Because He’s perfect!”).

Clearly Mary was thoughtful; deliberate. Like all moms, she loved her child in a way unlike anyone else. She gave birth, nursed Him, and did everything possible to provide a good life for Him, all the while knowing He was special, yet not at all what she or anyone was expecting from the King of the Jews.

Next week we’ll look at the most unexpected moment in Mary’s life.

So What?

Moms, you can relate to Mary better than anyone. You know the joys and heartache of not only parenting but doing what only moms can do. Just as I learned more about our heavenly Father the day I became a dad, moms can identify with Mary.

We can only imagine the conversations she had with Jesus, the questions she asked, the haunting words of Simeon throughout His growth, and the mystery of His identity.


Just for the record, there are a few things I like to watch more than once, but it’s not so much for the intrigue and wonder but rather the tradition. A Charlie Brown Christmas comes to mind. The beauty, of course, of familiar shows is you can be interrupted by a bathroom break or phone call/text without missing anything. You also notice new things each time you experience it.

The more you read the Bible, the more familiar it becomes, but the more the Holy Spirit can guide you into truth. We are constantly changing and God’s Word has the power to encourage, convict, challenge and transform us.

I’ve read it cover to cover—many times. We have together as a church. This year we’ve read through Psalms and Proverbs each day. In 2015 we have a new reading plan. It’s called One Story and it will cover the major themes of the Bible with six readings each week. If you have a smart phone, the readings can be easily obtained with the YouVersion app as well as There are free videos, Experience study guides, and Let’s Discuss It discussion guides for your family and/or Life Group.

As we prepare for the new year, it’s my hope and prayer that we would passionately pursue God like never before, as individuals and as a family together.

For Further Study

The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

Vision, John 9, 17 February 2013

Big Idea: God wants us to see.


There are several themes in this lengthy account. Religious leaders show their lack of vision while a blind man is able to see. The Sabbath, suffering, religion, and the influence of Jesus are all presented.


As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (1-2)

Some Hindus believe disabilities are punishment for sins committed in a previous life.

The book of Job is clear about this. Though God does discipline those that He loves, often our pain and trials are not the result of sin.

When our child was first hospitalized six years ago, there were those that subtly and not-so-subtly implied that her pain was the result of our sin. We were being punished for secret sins. My wife and I searched our hearts and came to the conclusion that if there was secret sin in our lives, it was so secret that we were unaware of it. We acknowledged that we were far from perfect, but there was nothing unusual in our actions that caused our child to be in excruciating pain.

So why do bad things happen to good people? We don’t have time to fully unpack that question, but let me briefly suggest two things. First, none of us are truly good. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Second, sin is the reason. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation has been a mess.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

Don’t misunderstand this text.

God is not cruel, inflicting pain on people to glorify Himself.

At the same time, God is not fair. Bad things do happen to good people. But God is good and He can be trusted.

Daddy knows best…really!

“So that the work of God” likely refers not to what precedes it but rather to what follows. See how different it looks...

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus. “But so that the work of God might be displayed in his life, as long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

God did not make the man blind to show His glory.

Rather, God sent Jesus to do works of healing to show His glory.

I want to pause here for a moment because many of you are experiencing pain and suffering. You might not be blind, but you or a loved one are in the midst of a disability, a shattered dream, or an overwhelming trial.

I’m with you!

I’ve tried to take the letter “Y” out of the alphabet because I find myself asking it all the time. Why God? Sometimes we discover why, sometimes we don’t, but God can be trusted.

Today I prayed for vision to see what God is doing. I don’t understand, but I know He is at work in and through me, my family, and the storm we are experiencing. I want Him to just change the situation. Sometimes He does. Sometimes He doesn’t. Daddy knows best.

Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (6-7)

This would not be my preferred method of healing! Spit was thought to be a curse. Jesus was essentially cursing the blindness. The man is healed. This is great news, right? The man was blind, now he sees. Praise God! End of story.

Not so fast!

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

“How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. (8-10)
The people are demanding to know what happened.

He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

“Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

The man didn’t know, but the entire Gospel of John is written so that we can find Jesus.

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” (13-15)

Whenever the Pharisees are involved, you know it’s going to get ugly!

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

This poor guy has been miraculously healed and all they can do is subject him to an interrogation.

The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” (18-19)

Talk about a lack of faith! They don’t believe that the man was ever blind.

“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” (20-24)

This is a huge deal! Getting kicked out of the synagogue was not like being asked to leave a local church. It was like getting kicked out of the city. Even today, the synagogue is not merely the place of worship, but the social center of the Jewish community.

The Pharisees hated Jesus—as we have seen in previous weeks. They are jealous of Him and the crowds He is attracting from His miracles and teaching. The healed man’s parents are afraid.

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (25-35)

We were all steeped in sin at birth, but the self-righteous Pharisees continued to believe that this man and his parents were responsible for his blindness.

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (36-41)

The story ends the opposite of its beginning. The blind man can see and the accusers claim to see clearly when, in fact, they cannot.

The religious leaders that are supposedly righteous are filled with pride and envy while the supposed sinner is seen worshiping Jesus.

Which bring us to my favorite question about any what?

Jesus healed a blind man and they both attracted self-righteous critics. So what?

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Suffering is part of our world. It is to be expected, yet it seems to surprise us.

It all goes back to the Garden. Sin entered the world—not just Adam and Eve—when they ate of the fruit.

2. We are addicted to comfort and safety.

2/3 of the world suffers daily...constantly.

This season of Lent and the very nature of fasting can help us empathize with others that have no food or those that are blind.

3. Following Jesus often makes life more difficult, not less. Jesus said clearly to His followers

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

Jesus never promised us safety and comfort, but He did promise His presence. He said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

  1. We need one another.

It is a lie to think that it’s just about you and Jesus. We were created for community. I need you and you need me. That’s a message for another time, but suffice it to say that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those how mourn.

5. God may be seem distant or even absent in the midst of suffering, but He is always at work healing our inner lives (see Ephesians 3).

It is through suffering that I have felt the closest to God. Nobody knows pain like Jesus. Nobody. The apex of human history was Jesus hanging on the cross. He recognized how we had messed up this beautiful world and He came to reverse the curse. He conquered sin and death. It’s hard to experience peace when you are comfortable.

6. The more we can let go of the idols in our lives and cling to Jesus, the more joy we will experience.

Some of us look to our health, our bank account, our careers, or even our family members to bring us joy, but Jesus said to follow Him means we need to hate our family and even our own lives in comparison to our love for Him (Luke 14:26).

We need to live with our hands open—to give and receive.

Song: Blessed Be Your Name

7. The best is yet to come. Really.

We live in the space between the first and second comings of Jesus. We have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is powerful and active. God still heals the blind. There are documented cases all over the world. God still causes the lame to walk. I’m praying that for a special girl right now. Sometimes God says yes to our prayer requests, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have easy answers. I can recommend a pile of books. I can tell you to study the book of Job. I can quote you verse after verse of Paul telling us to rejoice, endure, and embrace suffering. I have plenty of questions myself, but I know God is in control, God is good, and God is faithful. This world is not the end. The best is yet to come.

In the Lord of the Rings film
The Two Towers, there is a famous quote from Sam in which he says,

“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. What are you holding on to? Who are you holding on to?

Open our eyes, LORD, to see You at work in and through our lives...for Your glory.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Do You Want To Get Well? John 5:1-47, 8 July 2012

Big Idea: Do you want to get well?

John 5:1-47

What do you want? Really.

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast in which the hosts reflected upon what they’d do if they won the lottery.

If you found a lamp with a genie inside, what would be your three wishes?

 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
  Then Jesus said to him,
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:1-9a)

Do you find anything unusual about this passage?

Jesus’ asks this paralyzed man if he wants to get well. Why?

Sometimes we don’t know what we want.
Sometimes we don’t really want what we think we want.
Sometimes we don’t want what we really need.

Most of us have heard stories about people who refuse to leave an abusive relationship.

Maybe you know someone struggling with an addiction but they won’t seek help. They don’t really want to change.

Change. That’s a loaded word!

Why is change so hard?

We fear the unknown.
The status quo is often comfortable.

Carl Sandburg once said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to get well?”

Jesus asks the best questions. They not only lead to an answer, they usually change the entire story.

How many loaves do you have?
Who touched Me?
Whose face is on this coin?
Will you give Me something to drink?
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

Notice the man’s response. All he can see are the obstacles. He lacks vision.

These pools were believed to have had magical powers when they were stirred by an angel, but only the first person in the pool could be healed. This man could not walk, much less be the first one in the pool.

The man waited thirty-eight years to be healed in the pool. He never asked to be healed, but Jesus shows up, blows his mind, and heals his body...without the pool!

That sounds like Jesus...the friend of sinners, the compassionate One.

Look at the man’s response to Jesus’ question again. He does not say yes. He explains why he has not been healed.

Change is hard. If he is healed, he has to work rather than beg. He has to pay taxes. He has to buy a pair of shoes! Everything he has known for nearly 40 years is radically altered.

Jesus simply tells him to get up. That’s it! No prayer, no mud, no magic wand, no altar call, no plea for money. Get up!

There’s more to this story, though. One simple verse changes everything...

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, (John 5:9b)

Uh oh! The rest of the chapter shows how religion got in the way of the relationship God wants to establish with us.

The rulers completely missed the point.

We’ve talked about the importance of the Sabbath. It is in God’s top ten list...the Ten Commandments. It was created for us to rest and know God.

Jesus heals...on the Sabbath. Ooohhh!

Jesus tells him to carry his mat...and it is the Sabbath. Ooohhh!

Jesus runs into the man again, though.Jesus tells the man to stop sinning, but rather than following Jesus, he blows the whistle on Him.

Was his sickness the result of sin? We don’t know, but it is possible that there was a correlation.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18)

Here Jesus is on trial.

They are prosecuting Jesus.
They are persecuting Jesus.

Jesus was not merely unpopular. It says that they tried to kill Him! Why?

1. He was breaking the Sabbath
2. He was accused of blasphemy by calling Himself God (which is why He had the authority to break the Sabbath)

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (John 5:19-23)

That cleared it up, right?

The rest of the chapter continues with red-letter words of Jesus to the religious leaders that ultimately call for Jesus’ execution.

These are very important statements in which Jesus declares that He is God. He is LORD of all, including the Sabbath. The seeds that lead to the crucifixion are clearly sown here in the fifth chapter of John.

But I want to go back to the beginning...I want to end where we began...

What do you want?

Do you want to be healed?
Do you want a spouse?
Do you want a job?
Do you want peace?
Do you want to impact the lives of others?
Do you want God to do great things through—and in—you?

Don’t let your dreams fade!

Perhaps a more important question before going there is...

Do you want to be well? Maybe you think you
are well. We’re all messed up. Each person in this room is sick. We are sick with sin. In fact, if you think you are well, you are more messed up than the rest of us because you are living in denial...and undoubtedly judging the rest of us...but we talked about that two weeks ago with the Samaritan woman.

It all begins with surrender. Perhaps you are thinking about what you have to do to be healed, but the Living Water has come to us.

There were various people at the pool:

Lame: in pain
Paralyzed: numb
Blind: no vision

This sounds like many in the Church. We lack vision, we are hurt and in bondage from our past, or feel detached.

Jesus doesn’t want us to merely survive like the sick man. He wants us to experience all of the life that He came to bring. That is not to say that there won’t be trials and persecution, but He has a vision for you...for me...for us...that He and only He can accomplish if we allow Him to do so.

Nothing is impossible with God...especially if you are pursuing His vision for your life.

It probably won’t happen as you expect it. The paralyzed man thought the pool was the only way to health, but Jesus surprised him.
It probably won’t happen when you expect it. He was paralyzed for thirty-eight years! Don’t give up. His timing is perfect, but usually slow in our estimation.

Can you let go of your own fear of change and allow God to make all things new? A new life, a new way of living, that is the Good News of God in Christ.

Get up and walk, in Jesus’ Name. Get your eyes up and look to Him. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and get them off of yourself!!!

You can listen to the podcast here.

Our Mission, 11 September 2011

  • Big Idea: God has given us a mission and it is radical.

  • Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers had a most interesting beginning to pre-season training. All the players knew that at the first team meeting, the coach would waste no time getting straight to the point. Many of the men, half Lombardi’s age and twice his size, were openly fearful, dreading the encounter. The coach did not disappoint them, and, in fact, delivered his message in one of the great one-liners of all time. Football in hand, Lombardi walked to the front of the room, took several seconds to look over the assemblage in silence, held out the pigskin in front of him, and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” In only five words, Lombardi communicated his point: We’re going to start with the basics and make sure we’re executing all the fundamentals.

  • My very first words as your pastor were, “Why are you here?” It doesn’t get any more basic than that! Last week we said that we exist to glorify God, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

  • We have also talked about the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

  • The Great Commission summarizes Jesus’ final words to His followers some 2000 years ago.

  • Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

  • The Great Commandment was Jesus’ response to the question of the greatest commandment.

  • 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?”

  • 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 22:34-40)

  • Sometime in the early 1900s our church was planted. Although we’ve been unable to uncover details of the once-new church, it was undoubtedly launched to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment.

  • - Make disciples.
  • - Love God.
  • - Love people.

  • Last month the elders gathered together to prayerfully consider where God was leading us. There were two exercises that were especially valuable:

  • 1. We began to develop a mission statement. Mission statements do not achieve the mission, but they define it in order to make it achievable. I had spent months trying to find our mission statement and each person I asked gave me a different answer! If we had one, it was not clear or memorable.

  • Many churches take the Great Commission from Matthew 28 and form a generic mission statement such as…

  • “We exist to know God and make Him known” or
  • “We exist to make disciples and glorify God.”

  • Those are fine, but they are so broad that every church should adopt them. In fact, if they couldn’t agree to those statements, I would question whether or not they are a biblical church!

  • 2. We did a SWOT analysis. Some of you are probably imagining a mosquito infestation while others recognize it as a review of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The one striking thing to me was the item viewed as our greatest weakness—geography.

  • There are two things that are striking: a) many live far from our building and b) most live far from one another.

  • We pondered the question, “What if our greatest weakness became our greatest strength?”

  • We all agreed that we did not merely want to be a distributor of religious goods and services. We also agreed that God has a unique mission for our church that can complement neighboring churches as we partner together.

  • Furthermore, we agreed that we have been on something of a treadmill for a while, engaging in good activity but not having a clear direction. It’s better to be on a treadmill than to go the wrong way!

  • So this morning I’d like to present to you our mission statement…

  • We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 

  • - serving our communities
  • - sharing our story
  • - sending disciples to bless the nations

  • so that God is glorified.

  • These words are not magic. They don’t accomplish anything on their own. They do define our purpose and set direction for our present and future. Now I’d like to take some time and unpack it for you.

  • Make disciples. That’s our primary objective. Why? Those are our marching orders given to us by our Senior Pastor, Jesus Christ. He didn’t tell us to build buildings, gather on Sundays, sing songs, preach sermons, or have potlucks, though they can be part of the process. He said to make disciples. By doing so, we will glorify God since that is what He has called us to do.

  • Love God and people. Again, this is very broad and generic, yet meaningful. It should be the benchmark for everything we do.

  • Serving our communities. The most important part of this phrase is the plurality of the word community. As much as we may want to focus our efforts on Scio Township, there are two major obstacles to doing so. First, few of us live in Scio Township. Our greatest sphere of influence will naturally be our neighbors. Second, even if we all lived in Scio Township, Scio has no clear identity. It is a hunk of land between Dexter and Ann Arbor.

  • In some ways, our building reminds me of the Detroit Lions’ football stadium Ford Field in Detroit, a destination where people from surrounding areas gather on Sundays for a few hours only to scatter and return to their communities until next Sunday.

  • We will continue to gather on Sundays, but our focus is to equip and empower you to love and serve your neighbors in your respective communities. Rather than trying to get people to come to church, we want to take the church to the people across Washtenaw County and beyond. God has placed us in a very strategic region that causes ripples around the world.

  • People often analyze the teaching of Jesus. Even atheists and agnostics glean from His wise words, viewing Him as something of a sage. It wasn’t merely His words that attracted people, however. It was the way He served people. He spent time with children. He fed the crowds. He healed the sick. He gave away His life in every conceivable way. He commands us to do likewise.

  • People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. We are committed to loving and serving our communities. How? We will present some church-wide opportunities such as serving at the Ann Arbor-Dexter Run or supporting our ministry partner Hope Clinic in Ypsilanti. The rest is ultimately up to you. Most of us can’t even begin to serve our neighbors because we don’t know our neighbors. We’re going to encourage you to throw parties, have barbecues, volunteer in your communities, and be missionaries to your neighborhoods.

  • Sharing our story. Once people earn our trust, they will be willing to listen to our story. One of the great problems with street preachers on soapboxes is the absence of relationships. We have a story. We shared some earlier this year during 2WordStory and the EACH campaign. It’s ultimately not our story but His. We are about both works and words.

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15b)

  • Your story coupled with your service are more powerful than any sermon, revival meeting, or crusade. You have a personal story but we also have a common story. Each Christ-follower can testify that “I once was lost/but now I’m found/Was blind but now I see.”

  • Our world is dying to hear our story—literally. Every day I read the tragic stories of people who have breathed their last breath, many unaware of the God who so loved them that He gave His only Son for them.

  • Sending disciples to bless the nations. The ultimate result of our deeds and words will be disciples, fully-devoted followers of Jesus, people that know Jesus, love Jesus, and look like Jesus. The real test of our effectiveness is not merely how good the band sounds, how much fun the kids have, or how many people like the sermon. The question is are we making disciples and blessing the world.

  • Jesus said to make disciples “of all nations” and we can do this through relationships with internationals in our communities, through the Internet, and through short and long-term mission trips. One of the greatest things about our denomination—our tribe—the Christian & Missionary Alliance—is their passion for the nations. Missions is not something to be done one week each fall, but 24/7/365. Some of you may never need a passport, but many of you—especially our youth—are being prepared to GO. Jesus’ commission literally means to make disciples of all nations “as you are going” and that will often require travel. One dream of mine is to have a group next year travel to Peru to partner with Great Commission Air, our church’s global missions partner.

  • So that God is glorified. We end where we began, with God. We are His Church. We are His people. It’s all about Him.

  • That is our mission: serve our communities, share our story, and send disciples.

  • So what’s our theme for the year? It’s all about fulfilling our mission and it is simply called Radical. Over the next few weeks and throughout this ministry year we’re going to look at some of the most challenging teachings of Jesus and analyzing what it means to be a Christian in USAmerica.

  • Blessed Assurance. In 1873, blind composer Fanny Crosby wrote the words to the popular hymn, Blessed Assurance. As we sing about our story, praise our awesome God for allowing us to be a part of His story and giving us a mission to serve, share, and send.

  • A note about youth. God has blessed with a uniquely gifted leader in Karl Koenig. I have been mentoring him weekly for several months and will continue to invest heavily in his life and ministry. He is taking a long-term approach to developing a dynamic youth group that will not merely entertain students but will challenge them to live their lives for something that matters, not the American dream but fulfilling God’s dream.

  • We are serious about not only making adult disciples but also disciples of our children and youth. A lock-in and retreat this fall are just the beginning of a comprehensive commitment to develop the next generation of leaders.

  • Baptism. I’m very excited about these five young people. Each of them desires to be fully-devoted followers of Christ. They want to be disciples and unlike a child dedication or baptism, we practice believer’s baptism where today they publicly declare their faith in Jesus.

  • Just as a wedding ring doesn’t make a person married but declares their commitment to their spouse, so baptism itself doesn’t make a person a disciple of Jesus but declares their commitment to Christ.

  • As we saw in the Great Commission, Jesus commands us to baptize disciples. The symbolism of baptism by immersion is rich. It depicts a water grave where we enter the water, die of ourselves and our sins, and come out of the water resurrected through new life in Christ.

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

  • David Platt writes, “Baptism is the clear, public, symbolic picture of the new life we have in Christ. As illustrated in baptism, we have died with Christ—died to our sin and died to ourselves—and we have been raised to life with him. Baptism also pictures our identification with one another in the church. Baptism unites us as brothers and sisters who share the life of Christ with one another. Disciple making involves inviting people into a larger community of faith where they will see the life of Christ in action and experience the love of Christ in person.”

  • You can listen to the podcast here.
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