Worthy is the Lamb, 30 April 2023

Worthy is the Lamb that Was Slain
Handel’s Messiah
Revelation 5:9-14

Series Big Idea: Handel’s Messiah may be the greatest work of music ever created, bringing praise and glory to the Creator.
Big Idea: Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb that was slain for us, is worthy of our eternal worship, praise, and devotion.
Today’s the day, the grand finale, the big conclusion to our series on Handel’s
Messiah that began with Advent last year and resumed on Resurrection Sunday. Hallelujah! If you’re new around here, Handel created this magnificent work around lyrics taken from the Bible. Virtually every word is scripture! For years I had this crazy idea to do a sermon series on it and we finish it today…and get a glimpse of the future!
Of all of the sermon requests I get, perhaps none is greater than people wanting to hear about Revelation. There is no book more fascinating, mysterious, or misunderstood than the last book of the Bible. Some of you may recall several weeks ago a woman interrupting my sermon to say nothing in Revelation has happened yet, despite that it begins with John writing to the seven churches in the province of Asia…about 2000 years ago! Much of Revelation may lie in the future, including our text for today, but it’s worth noting the context before we dive in.
Revelation is a special type of literature called apocalyptic which means revelation or unveiling. You read it differently than Romans, for instance, a teaching on theology, or Matthew which is essentially a biography of Jesus.
We all understand science fiction is not to be understood the same as
The Toledo Blade, right? You don’t interpret The Babylon Bee the same as The Wall Street Journal. Poetry is read differently than a science textbook, and comic book has a different purpose than a car owner’s manual. You might say that how you read depends upon where you are in the library. The Bible is a library, and we can’t read Genesis, Song of Solomon, James, and Revelation the same way. They’re all God-inspired, valuable, and true, but understanding them and applying them vary from book to book.
I said Revelation is apocalyptic literature.
Here’s The Bible Project explaining what that means.
Although much of Revelation is challenging and controversial, today’s text is rather clear. It speaks of Jesus as the lamb mentioned in the video. He is sometimes depicted as a lion (you may know C.S. Lewis used a lion named Aslan to be a symbol for Jesus in the Narnia series) and sometimes a lamb, causing me to often say during election time
our allegiance is not to an elephant or a donkey, but to the Lion of Judah who is also the Lamb of God.
In Revelation chapter five, there is a wonderful scene that is a preview of what is to come.
Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it. (Revelation 5:1-3, NLT)
Jesus’ friend John continues…
Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. 5 But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:4-5, NLT)
Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. 7 He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. 8 And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. (Revelation 5:6-8, NLT)
The video said sometimes symbolism is identified. Here, gold bowls filled with incense are the prayers of God’s people. Did you know that about your prayers?
Many have used Revelation like a treasure map or a secret decoder ring, trying to solve every mystery and make it into a simple story, often using numerology to predict events and dates. This is where people often get off track…and why many are fascinated with Revelation.
Another challenging factor is this was written about 2000 years ago. Imagine 2000 years from now there is a political cartoon which shows a crying bald eagle with the numbers 9/11 below. We understand the bald eagle as representing the United States and the tears representing the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Similarly, there are images and symbols in Revelation that are literally thousands of years old. John’s original readers likely understood them better than we can, at least at first glance.
Is Jesus returning this year? Is so-and-so the anti-Christ? Are we living in the last days? Is that new Amazon technology the mark of the beast? One of the most popular books in the 1980s was
88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988. There was a big sale on them in 1989! By the way, Jesus himself said he didn’t know when he would return. He said…
However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. (Mark 13:32, NLT)
If someone tells you a date, they think they’re greater than Jesus! Run!
And by the way, rapture is a word that isn’t even found in the Bible. It is common in one eschatology or end times theory known as dispensationalism which sees history as divided into multiple ages or "dispensations" in which God acts with humanity in different ways.
This theological system began in 1833 with writings by John Nelson Darby and was spurred on by Cyrus Scofield who added study notes to the King James Bible in 1909 which essentially became the first study Bible. Tragically, some people confused the notes with the scriptures themselves! Many believe the Scofield Bible was the single most influential Bible in American History.
I’m not going to say everything written by Scofield was wrong. I’m certainly not going to say everything her wrote is right. What I am saying is since many didn’t understand the difference between scripture and his notes, those notes became very influential.
If you want a quick summary of how this dispensational theory spread, Israel becoming a nation in 1948 was a catalyst for people trying to see modern events in the book of Revelation. Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth became the best-selling non-fiction book of the 1970s and was the subject of a television special in 1974 and 1975 and even a 1978 film. The Left Behind books introduced in 1995 have sold more than 65 million copies.
I’m not necessarily saying these theories are wrong, but they are certainly controversial and relatively new way of viewing Revelation…and they have made publishers very rich!
Dispensationalism is a theory and must always be treated as such. The problems people have with the Bible and theology and God often have nothing to do with the Bible and God…and everything to do with our interpretation of the Bible. 
I must admit there are parts of the Bible which are difficult to understand, which is why we were meant to be in community, to study the Bible together. First Alliance has Elders to help discern what God is saying to us, both through the Bible and through circumstances. It’s really more than one person can handle.
Mark Twain famously said, ““It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts that I do understand.”
Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Go and make disciples of all nations. Don’t worry about when Jesus will return. Just get ready…and help others get ready.
If you’re still fascinated with Revelation, I have two and a half books to recommend to you. The first is
Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael Gorman. Gorman notes several problems with the “Left Behind” approach including (and I quote):
The series misunderstands the NT references to the “end times.” For the NT, the “end times” is the period between the first and second coming of Jesus.
It reduces the primary reason for conversion to fear.
It is escapist and therefore has no ongoing ethic of life between the times, between the first and second comings. There is no compulsion to love one’s neighbor, practice deeds of mercy, work for peace and justice, etc. Contrast the hope of imminent return and the ethic in 1 Thessalonians, which actually has an ethic for life in the hope of the second coming.
The second book I would recommend is
Revelation for the Rest of Us by one of my seminary professors, Scot McKnight. Neither Gormon nor Mcknight  claims to be the sole, perfect authority, but they present a broader understanding of various interpretations of Revelation.
I said two and a half books. I say half because
The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism by Daniel Hummel will not be released until May 4, but I’ve read excerpts from it and it sounds enlightening.
The point is there are many different views on Revelation, here are some you may not have encountered, and don’t become overly concerned about the future. We’re one day closer than yesterday.
The purpose of Revelation—and all of the Bible—is to bring comfort and help us prepare for the future. Get ready! These things will happen someday. We don’t know when. It could be today. It could be 1000 years from now. But get ready…and now we’re ready for our text for today from Handel’s Messiah.
And they sang a new song, saying:
            “You are worthy to take the scroll
                        and to open its seals,
            because you were slain,
                        and with your blood you purchased for God
                        persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10         You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
                        and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10, NIV)
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. (Revelation 5:11, NIV)
Can you imagine? What a sight! What a sound!
In a loud voice they were saying:
            “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
                        to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
                        and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12, NIV)
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
            “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
                        be praise and honor and glory and power,
                                                for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)
Don’t miss this: it says every creature. This isn’t just an announcement from an angel. These aren’t words spoken by a group of saints. It says every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea. Does that mean fish and birds and giraffes and puppy dogs will declare this?
There may be many things we don’t understand about Revelation, but the Lamb that was Slain is certainly Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who came, lived, died, and rose again. He is worthy—worth—all power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Hallelujah! Praise the LORD!
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:14, NIV)
That’s the natural response to an encounter with God…humility and worship. That’s one reason we gather each week…to be reminded He’s God and we’re not and He deserves our worship, our allegiance, our time, our talents, and our treasures. He is in control, we’re not. He is LORD. He is worthy of our worship.
Do you want to know when all this will happen? I don’t know, but we’re done day closer to it today than yesterday…and it will be amazing!
Amen. Yes, LORD. Let it be!
Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb that was slain for us, is worthy of our eternal worship, praise, and devotion.

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

O Come, All Ye Faithful, 13 December 2020

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Series Big Idea: Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Joy is the result of focusing our attention upon Jesus the Messiah who is worthy of our adoration.

Last week we began our Advent series, Carols. This season has its own soundtrack, a diverse collection of songs ranging from the silly (Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer) to the sacred (last Sunday’s theme, O Holy Night). Today we’re going to look at a seventeenth century song originally written in Latin, Adeste Fideles. We know it as O Come, All Ye Faithful.

What do you think about when hear the word “faithful?” Couples promise on their wedding day to be faithful to one another until death. We sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as we worship our trustworthy LORD.

Dictionary.com lists these definitions for the adjective

  • - Strict or thorough in the performance of duty
  • - True to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.
  • - Steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant
  • - Reliable, trusted, or believed
  • - Adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate

Then it lists the definitions of the noun

  • - The believers, especially members of a Christian church or adherents of Islam
  • - The body of loyal members of any party or group

True. Steady. Loyal. Reliable. Trusted. Believed. Accurate. Do these words describe you? Do they describe us? If so, come. O Come, All Ye Faithful.

The root of the word faithful is…faith. There is a belief, a conviction behind the faithful. The faithful are full of faith. Are you?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible involves a boy possessed by a spirit. He would be thrown to the ground, foam a the mouth, gnash his teeth, and become rigid. It’s a disturbing situation. John Mark writes about his encounter with Jesus.

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. (Mark 9:20)

Jesus asked the boy’s father,
“How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered.
“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:21-22)

“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

This is one of my personal prayers—
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

Put another way, LORD, help me trust You more. Give me faith. Strengthen my faithfulness and loyalty to you.

The challenge to faithfulness is distraction. This is true for a married person whose eyes wander. It is true for the religious person who explores another faith. It can be true for Christians who become more devoted to the things of this world rather than the things of God.

One of the most famous Christmas carols begins
O come all ye faithful
Are you among the faithful? Are you a fully-devoted follower of Jesus Christ? Based upon my aforementioned prayer, I want to be, though I sometimes fail. The next line describes the manner in which God’s faithful people are to come.
Joyful and triumphant
Our Advent candle this week is joy. We are taught by the Declaration of Independence to pursue happiness. I want to be happy, but it’s hard to sustain. It comes and goes. It’s usually based upon circumstances, many of which we cannot control.
I am very happy today because my Michigan Wolverines did not lose to that team down south yesterday!
Unfortunately, a loss in the future is inevitable and I will be unhappy!
But joy is different. Happiness is external, where joy is more internal. The Greek word,
chara, means gladness, calm delight. We can pursue joy. We can choose it. C.S. Lewis said,
“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
He called joy “the serious business of heaven,” noting, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is,” wondering, “whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.” In our text last week, we read,

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
Nehemiah famously said in the book (8:10) that bears his name, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Joy is found in the LORD, not shopping malls or Hallmark Christmas movies! C.S Lewis wrote,
“If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone.”
The faithful are joyful and triumphant. Although it didn’t look like it as Jesus was crucified, he was actually winning, destroying sin and death forever. He is the victor, the champion, the greatest…and being with him, being for him, being faithful to him allows us to be joyful and triumphant.

Joy is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you want joy, you must get close to the LORD. The message of today’s carol is just that…get close to the LORD, come and behold God in a manger.

O come ye O come ye to Bethlehem Come and behold Him Born the King of angels
Obviously, we are not instructed to fly to Israel and visit Bethlehem, though you can. It’s a real city. The message is for God’s faithful to come and worship.
O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him Christ the Lord
What do you adore? What do you worship or honor or admire? What do you think about, spend time on, give your money to, focus your energies upon? “You are what you love (James K. A. Smith).”
The original Latin version of O Come, All Ye Faithful may have been written by St. Bonaventure, John Francis Wade, John Reading, King John IV of Portugal, or anonymous Cistercian monks somewhere between the 13
th and 18th century. We are more certain that the English translation was done by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley in 1841, with three additional verses added by William Thomas Brooke. First published in Murray’s Hymnal in 1852, Oakeley originally called the song, “Ye Faithful, approach ye.” The musical tune has been attributed to several musicians.
My favorite part of the song has always been the dynamics of the chorus. After joyfully singing the verses, there is a hush when the chorus begins,
O come let us adore Him, then getting louder each time until the crescendo of the song’s subject, Christ the LORD. Our response to knowing God is worship and adoration.
The second verse reflects the second chapter of Luke we examined last Sunday.
Sing choirs of angels Sing in exultation O sing all ye bright Hosts of heav'n above Glory to God all Glory in the highest
What a site that must’ve been for the shepherds who witnessed it.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)   

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)   

There’s a difference between Advent songs and Christmas songs. We are in the middle of Advent, the season of waiting for the coming, a time of anticipation. We are expecting the return of Jesus soon, though we also reflect back upon those who were waiting for his first coming. Perhaps the most famous Advent song is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The title says it all. Come, LORD! We are waiting, we are anticipating. We are waiting until December 25…waiting to open presents, waiting for Christmas dinner, waiting for the day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. O Come, All Ye Faithful is best sung on that day, especially the third verse.
Yea Lord we greet Thee Born this happy morning Jesus to Thee be all glory giv'n Word of the Father Now in flesh appearing
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)   

Eugene Peterson captured this so brilliantly in
The Message when he translated,

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. (John 1:14,
The Message)   

Emmanuel, God with us. Flesh and blood. One of us. God with skin on. Amazing!

So What?
Once again, our response to knowing God is worship and adoration. When we ponder who He is and all that He has done, how can we not praise Him? How can we not come and adore Him?
I know some of you love to sing…and others would just as soon skip to the sermon! Worship is so much more than singing songs. It is one way we adore the LORD, and the angels set a great example on the night of Jesus’ birth.

Last week we talked about posture, particularly the humble act of kneeling. I’ve been in places where the awe of God has caused people to clap, raise their hands, kneel, lie on the floor, dance, weep, and shout. I’m not talking about putting on a show, drawing attention to one’s self, being a charismaniac, or feeling peer pressure to perform for others. I’m simply talking about our response to God.

There’s a powerful scene in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is having dinner at the home of a religious Pharisee.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:37-38)

This disturbed the host who was quick to label her a “sinner,” as if he wasn’t! Jesus used it as a teaching moment.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47)

Then Jesus said to her,
“Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49)

Jesus said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)

She was faithful. She was full of faith. She came to adore Jesus.

She also had many sins. She received great forgiveness. She expressed great love.

That describes some of you. You know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the barrel, and you’ve experienced the thrill of forgiveness, the outlandish—some call it reckless—love of God. You can’t help but sing, shout, wail, dance in response to all God has done for you.

Some of you are more…reserved! It may be culture. It may be tradition. It may be your personality. That’s fine. But perhaps it’s because you’ve simply lost the awe, wonder, mystery, and majesty of Almighty God. You’ve forgotten the price paid for your salvation. You’ve reduced your faith to some beliefs in your head rather than a transformation of your heart. I want to encourage you to take time this Advent to read, reflect, and become captivated by the joy of the Messiah, the wonder of the season, the love that came down at Christmas. We are told to remember because we so easily forget, we get comfortable, things become familiar and we lose our passion.

We’ve all sinned—a lot—and our reflection upon the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb should lead us to fall to our knees, to be joyful and triumphant, to come and adore Him! He is worthy!

O Come, All Ye Faithful

One more thing…

Worship and adoration is more than singing songs on Sunday morning. It’s how we live our lives, what we do with our time, talents, and treasures. We worship through our generosity, kindness, love…heart, soul, mind, and strength. Family, go worship the King!

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

O Holy Night, 6 December 2020

O Holy Night
Luke 2:6-14

Series Big Idea: Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Jesus brings a thrill of hope to a weary world, prompting us to fall to our knees in worship.

I love music! There are few things I enjoy more than playing, composing, and singing music. Whether it’s nurture, nature, or both, music has been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandpa could play virtually every instrument in the orchestra. My dad could, too. I’m a third-generation musician, and our son, Trevor, carries the baton today.

Music is powerful. It can energize us during a workout, bring tears to our eyes, or relax us before we drift off to sleep. A song can excite a crowd at a concert or transport us back to nostalgic moments of childhood. Perhaps the coolest thing I’ve ever heard is that some Jewish rabbis believed when God created the universe, He sung it into existence! Imagine our world the result of a song!

Although it will be unusual this year, I love Christmas. I like buying gifts for family and friends (especially when I find a deal!). I enjoy the parties…especially white elephant exchanges! Christmas cookies are amazing…especially gingerbread! But perhaps my favorite thing about Christmas besides people is the music. No other holiday has a soundtrack so robust, whether it’s “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” or “Silent Night.”

What is your favorite Christmas carol? Comment online.

Most of you are familiar with the Christmas story, but this year we’re going to look at it from the perspective of composers who put the scriptures to song. We begin this morning with what might be my all-time favorite Christmas carol: “O Holy Night.”

In 1843, the church organ in the French city of Roquemaure was completely renovated. To celebrate the newly finished organ, the parish priest had the local poet, wine merchant, and mayor, Placide Cappeau write a poem. Cappeau was an interesting fellow. A fireworks accident blew up his right hand at age eight, and he was known to “enjoy the bottle,” so to speak. This French poet was moved by Luke chapter two…

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

This is a familiar text to anyone who’s ever attending a church at Christmastime. What would it be like to be an eyewitness of this moment? This is what Cappeau considered as he wrote his poem.

We’re in the season of
Advent, a season based upon the Latin word “adventus” or “coming.” It’s a time of preparation for the coming of the LORD Jesus Christ. We look back at those who were anticipating his first entry into our world. Timing is everything, they say, and Dr. Luke includes this detail that “the time came for the baby to be born.” Imagine waiting hundreds of years for something. The Messiah had been prophesied throughout the pages of the Jewish Bible, and Luke records this historic moment.

What are you anticipating? Maybe it’s a COVID-19 vaccine or recovery from the virus. Perhaps you are waiting for a prodigal son or daughter to come home. Children can’t wait to open those presents under the tree. God’s timing is perfect. I often say He’s never late but rarely early! While we look back at the first coming of Jesus, we look forward to his return. He is coming—soon—but rather than a baby, he will coming as a king…the King of kings, the LORD of lords. I don’t know anyone who likes to wait, but I know Jesus will be worth the wait!

Luke continues…

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)

This was unremarkable. The land was likely filled with shepherds and flocks. But then something incredible happens!

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9)

Angels are real. They are found throughout the Bible.

Have you ever encountered an angel? I’ve heard stories of angels appearing as ordinary humans, only to suddenly disappear. This is not one of those occasions! This angel appears along with the glory of the LORD. It was terrifying! For the shepherds, this was not a silent night, but a scary night!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

This would’ve been enough to get my attention…but there’s more!

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Imagine the sights! Imagine the sounds! This is what Cappeau was pondering when he wrote his poem.

O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth

What a night.
What a light.
What a sight.
What delight!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

This is an odd phrase to the modern reader. To “pine” means to long for something. The world was filled with sin and error. Hope was scarce. The world was pining or longing for something…for someone.

'Til He appears and the soul felt its worth

The Messiah changed everything! No person has ever had such a transformational impact on our planet. I can’t even imagine life without Jesus. The next phrase might be the most fantastic lyric in this or any other carol.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

Could there be a more relevant declaration in this moment, in 2020? Our world is weary. It is broken. It is suffering in so many ways. I love Cappeau’s line “a thrill of hope.” Pastor Keith spoke of hope last week, also the theme of the first Advent candle.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Followers of Jesus can experience a thrill of hope…and rejoice! Pastor Keith said hope is “holding onto promises earnestly.”

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

What thrills you? Some people like watching thriller movies. I love the thrill rides at Cedar Point! But there’s nothing more thrilling than hope, especially in the midst of despair.

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

In the distance…up ahead…yonder…breaks a new and glorious morn. It’s coming! It’s around the corner. Get ready!

The prophet Jeremiah wrote in 586 BC

I well remember them,
and my soul is
downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have
Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are
new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will
wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose
hope is in him,
to the one who
seeks him;
it is good to
wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
(Lamentations 3:20-26)

Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!

The shepherds were terrified when they heard and saw the angel. I’m quite sure their knees hit the ground. We’re not a culture that’s used to bowing, to kneeling, to stooping down. Posture matters.

If you’re physically able, fall on your knees right now, wherever you are. How does it feel? Do you feel a loss of power? Do you feel in control? Is it a humbling position?

My frequent prayer—especially this year—has been for our nation and its leaders to fall on our knees, to cry out to God, to be awestruck by His power and wisdom and humbly recognize our own frailty and inadequacy. I don’t care who the mayor, governor, or president is, I pray for them to fall on their knees. And I want that for you, too…and myself. Kneeling is not comfortable, but it’s effective! It will shift your perspective in a hurry.

Ever since the pandemic began, I’ve been praying that this might be the moment God uses to get our attention, to spark a spiritual awakening, to prompt a revival, to free us from the bondage of our idolatry of money, sex, and power and instill in us awe and wonder of the LORD God Almighty.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but politics has not been the answer. Education has not been the answer. Entertainment has not been the answer. Science has not been the answer. The economy has not been the answer.

Only Jesus is the answer. Only the Messiah can bring real hope. Our desperation and God’s awesome presence should cause us to fall on our knees.

O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Cappeau captured the scene so vividly from Luke 2. What a night. What a holy, divine night!

There’s actually quite a bit more to the story of “O Holy Night.” Composer Adolphe Adam was approached to compose music for the poem. Adam was a Jew! He was asked to write music for a poem about the Messiah and it was composed within a day!

On Christmas Eve, 1847, the song was sung and was so well-received that it spread throughout the community. When the church leaders learned about who wrote it, they tried to shut it down! Religion can destroy just about anything! Fortunately, it couldn’t stop this song. It eventually made its way from France to England and a man named John Sullivan Dwight brought it to the USA. Dwight was a Harvard graduate and a minister, but he had panic attacks whenever he preached. He resigned as a pastor and created a journal of music. He took the French poem and translated it into English in the mid-1850s. Do you know what was happening in our nation in the mid-1850’s? There was a little debate going on about the issue of slavery. Let’s return to the song.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace

Jesus taught us to not only love God, but to love others…even our enemies. Most of us see law as a heavy or negative word, but what would happen if love was the law? The gospel or “good news” is peace.

Hope. Love. Peace. Could we use a little bit of that today? Family, this might be the moment our world has been anticipating. We serve the God of hope. Our trademark is supposed to be love. We follow the Prince of Peace. We have what the world needs more than a vaccine! We have life…the way, the truth, the life! We have Jesus! We need to share Jesus, proclaim Jesus, follow Jesus!

As if the song couldn’t get more relevant, the next line says,

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother

Do remember Dwight, the man who translated the French into English? He was a strong abolitionist. He recognized the sin of slavery.

And in His name, all oppression shall cease

The Black Lives Matter organization will not solve racism. Laws won’t change wicked hearts. Sin has invaded all of our lives…but there is power in the name of Jesus. There is salvation in the name of Jesus. There is healing in the name of Jesus. Demons tremble at the sound of the name of Jesus. In His name, all oppression will end. Prejudice. Racism. Injustice. Slavery. Bondage. Sin. Death.

So What?

How shall we respond?

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us Praise His Holy name
Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim

In 1870, there was war in Europe, On Christmas Eve, a French soldier leaped out of his trench and started singing this (in French). This led a German soldier to start singing a German carol. In the midst of the conflict, they had three days of peace. O Holy Night brought peace in the midst of the war. Maybe it’s exactly what our world needs today.

There’s one more story. In 1906, a man named Marconi invented…the radio. The technology was so primitive it only transmitted morse code signals! Reginald Fessenden was trying to increase the range of the radio. On Christmas Eve 1906, people were listening for morse code but, instead, heard the Luke 2 passage read and then Fessenden playing this song on the violin…the first song ever transmitted on radio!

This song was requested by a forgotten priest
Written by an irreligious poet
Put to music by a Jewish composer
Translated into English by a minister unable to speak
It interrupted a war
And became the first song ever heard on radio!

Some of those men knew the story of Jesus, but they didn’t know Jesus. Do you? Family, this season is a reminder of the thrill of hope that our weary world desperately needs. It should cause us to fall to our knees in worship, in adoration, in praise. Christ is the LORD. O praise his name forever! He is here. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Hallelujah! Let us worship Him…every day!

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

Take Away, 12 January 2020

Take Away (start doing)
Series—A Fresh Start

Series Big Idea:
As we begin this new year/decade, it’s out with the old, in with the new.

Big Idea: There are many things we need to start doing in order to love God and others.

Several years ago I attended a conference. At the end, each person was given two Post-It Notes. We were instructed to use one to list one or two things that we wanted to leave behind. The other was used to list things we wanted to take away from the event.

Last Sunday we began a two-week series, A Fresh Start. We said that most of us have to-do lists, but few people take the time to create a stop-doing list. We need to leave behind some things from the past as we enter 2020. Maybe you want to leave behind those extra pounds you gained eating Christmas cookies! Perhaps you want to leave behind a bad habit such as biting your nails, smoking, or maxing out the credit card. In order to begin new habits or rhythms, we often have to let go of some things to make room in our lives for the things we want to start doing, which is our subject this morning.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Do you want it to matter?

I think deep inside of us, we all want to make a difference. We want our lives to count. We want something on our tombstone besides, “He lived and died.” How will you live your dash…that space between your birth and death?

It all begins today! Well, not exactly…but today can be a new beginning. As I took time to reflect upon 2019, I thought about what I want to be said at the end of this year. What will I do? Where will I go? Who will I meet? Most of all, who will I become…and worship.

One of our scriptures from last Sunday says,

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

We want to leave behind sin.
We want to leave behind all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice. Right?!

Paul continues,

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

We said last week it’s nearly impossible to just stop doing something cold turkey. You need to replace a behavior with a behavior. Paul’s saying stop treating others as enemies and then presents an alternative: be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. This sounds good, right? But how? The key is at the end of the verse. Do you see it? We can only be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to the extent that we have experienced the kindness, compassion, and forgiveness of Jesus.

You can’t share something you don’t possess. Have you experienced Jesus? Does your life reflect it?

We’re only twelve days into the new year. Now is a great time to start spiritual rhythms, to develop good habits (which often take 21 days), to cultivate our character. I want to offer a vision for what this might look like in your life. This may be familiar to many of you, but just imagine if you could look back at 2020 and say you have more of this:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We call that good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, the result of doing life with God. Galatians chapter 5 provides us with this portrait of a mature follower of Jesus.

How do we get more of this fruit? We must let go and let God. We must surrender. We must follow Jesus. We must obey Jesus’ command to

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

We all love the idea of love. We certainly love the idea of people loving us. I think most of us would say would want to love God. Hating God is a dangerous proposition, though indifference is also risky. The fact that you’re here today shows some desire on your part to know God, to love God. But what does Jesus mean when he says to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength? It means to love God with everything.

The reason most people make new year’s resolutions is because they want to improve themselves. They want to look better. They want to feel better. They want to have more money, more time, or improved health. Right?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to improve yourself, but it should never be the primary goal of life. In his book
SoulTalk, author Larry Crabb writes,

our first order of business is not to pursue satisfaction, but to identify what’s getting in the way of the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul.”

What is that? It's communion with God.

Too often we use God for our purposes. We give Him an hour on Sunday and otherwise ignore Him until we lose control. We seek His cooperation to improve our lives and a lifetime of blessings. If we do a few religious things, God owes us, right?

Anything that gets in the way of knowing, trusting, and following God is idolatry.

This includes church attendance, time with your family, serving those in need, giving money to charity, working on a degree, exercise, …anything!

To borrow Larry Crabb’s words, the world says, “I want to do something that will make my life better.” That’s good, but it’s secondary to the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul, which says, “I want to experience God through whatever means he provides and keep trusting him whether life gets better or not.”

Trust and obedience go hand in hand. I often say obedience is God’s love language. The number one command in the Bible is

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

If you can do this, I promise you it will be better than losing all of the weight, gaining all of the muscle, eliminating all of the debt, and whatever else you might resolve to do this year.

I want to suggest three practical ways to love God in 2020 and beyond. This is not about you and your pleasure, but you will be blessed. This might not produce the immediate results you might get from giving up sugar or working out an hour a day. But if you want to experience the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul, it begins with loving God with
all of you.

Love God with your time. I know, you’re so busy. We all get the same 24 hours each day. The average person spends 30 minutes in the bathroom. If we spent 8 hours working, 8 hours sleeping, and 90 minutes eating, that leaves six hours to…

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in
prayer? That’s less than ten minutes a day. Pour out your heart to God. You can journal your prayers. You can pray out loud in a car or closet. You can silently pray anywhere.

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in
God’s Word? Read it. Listen to it. Study it. Let it feed your soul.

What if you devoted two hours a week to attending the Alpha Course on Thursdays to really explore what it means to know and follow Jesus? If you’ve already been through Christianity 101, how about being a helper on the Alpha Course and helping others know and follow Jesus?

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in solitude, listening to God, being still, slowing down, resting, being fully present?

By the way, being here matters. Really. Many people are too busy to be here today. I chuckle when people talk as if another church is our competition. If they love Jesus, we’re on the same team! Our competition is the pillow, the golf course, the Internet, Netflix.

Love God with your time. Show me your calendar and I’ll show you what you
really love.

Love God with your talents. We all have gifts and abilities.

What would happen if you spent one hour a week
volunteering? You could serve in the nursery, prepare a meal for a family in need, listen to a shut-in tell their story, sing in the choir, or help at the Rosa Parks Teacher Pantry. One hour…out of 168. It would total 50 hours this year. Imagine how much impact 50 hours would have on the lives of others. It doesn’t have to be here on the campus of First Alliance Church, but we have so many ways for you to get connected, to bless others, …and nobody serves alone. One of the great things about joining a team at First Alliance is you get to serve alongside other people, making new friends. Each week the Connection Card is filled with opportunities ranging from ushering and greeting to leading a small group to serving on the kitchen committee to serving our students. We are always looking for artists, web designers, photographers, and digital storytellers. Our Trustees need help maintaining our beautiful campus buildings and grounds. What do you love to do? Do it for God! Love God with your talents.

Love God with your treasures.

This is where things really get interesting. Does your wallet or checkbook or online bank account reflect your love for God? Everything we have is a gift from God. Whether you have a penny to your name or a huge stock portfolio, all of our treasures are from God…on loan from God. He allows us to be stewards—overseers, managers—of stuff…money. The Bible never says we should give a certain dollar amount of money, but there is a concept in the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, known as the tithe. Tithe simply means ten percent. We have sales tax, which means 7.25 percent in Ohio.

Actually, the state sales tax is 5.75% but we pay 7.25% because of county and city taxes (Michigan’s sales tax rate is 6%).

Whether you’re at Dollar Tree or Macy’s, you have to pay taxes on most everything you buy. The tithe is not a tax. It’s not a max, either. It was something of a starting point for generosity before Jesus.

There’s a fascinating passage in the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, in which God makes some incredible statements to the people of Israel. He says,

You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. (Malachi 3:9)

It’s one thing to think you’ve been cursed, but it’s quite another to have God tell you you’re under a curse! Imagine God came to you and said you are robbing Him. Wow! In the previous verse, the people ask God, “How are we robbing You? What do you mean?” God continues,

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)

I think this is the only place in the Bible where God says, “Test Me.” The original Hebrew word, bahan, means “to test, try, probe, examine,” like seeing if a metal is pure.

Some tv preachers have manipulated this verse to say if you give them all of your money, God will make you rich. Actually, if you give them all of your money, you will make
them rich! But that’s not the point.

God is saying be generous. Invest in eternal things. Support your church.

This does not mean if you put twenty dollars in the offering plate today you’ll find a twenty in your pants pocket tomorrow (though you might!). It does mean that you will be blessed when you bless God, when you surrender to God, when you love God with your treasures. The text continues,

I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:11-12)

My parents taught me to tithe when I was a young boy. I have given at least ten percent of my income to God my entire life. I love to do it! Over the years, that’s added up to quite a bit of cash, but I don’t view it as money I’ve lost or spent. It’s money I’ve invested…in God’s Kingdom. He has blessed me with jobs, health, friends, and most of all Jesus. I could never begin to repay Him for His goodness and faithfulness to me. That doesn’t mean I’ve always been happy, healthy, and wealthy, but I have tested God in this area and He has never let me down.

I don’t have access to what people give around here, but I’ve been told many of you don’t give a dime. I feel bad for you. Really. Never mind what you give McDonald’s or Starbucks or Amazon or Kroger. You give to Columbus every day! A percentage of your money is given to our government, and I’m grateful for our government. But you’re missing out on the blessing of giving to God. He says, “Test Me!” Test Him!

If you don’t have much, you don’t have to give much. The tithe is a percentage thing. If you’ve got ten bucks, put one in the plate. If you’ve got a thousand, drop a Franklin! You can give online. You can text to give. You can do bill pay with your bank. We accept cash, checks, and even alpacas! On our website you can donate stocks and real estate and baseball cards and anything of value. This isn’t a fundraising pitch for First Alliance Church, but it is a challenge to test God, to invest in what He’s doing here in Toledo and around the world. There are a lot of great organizations out there, but First Alliance Church serves you AND others.

When you give here, you support Dinner Church, Sports & Arts Camp, and Elevate Student Ministry. Lives are being changed. People are being healed. Hope is being delivered. Masterpieces are being restored.

In this new year, I want to challenge you to love God with your treasures. If you give, great! What would it look like to test God and increase your giving? It seems like every time I increase my giving, I get an increase in my income somehow. It’s amazing! Again, I’m not making a promise that God will refund your money tomorrow if you give today, but the older I get, the more I believe
you can’t out-give God.

Giving is fun, too! Sometimes we’ll get extra money when Heather works extra hours or when we get a Christmas gift and I love giving extra money to God. It really is better to give than to receive, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, try it. Test God. Write a check. Give some cash. Invest in God’s work. I don’t know a better place to put your money.

I know some of you would love to give, but your finances are a wreck. We have a variety of resources to help you with finding a job, putting together a budget, and even saving money. You can call the office, send us an e-mail, or just write “Money Help” on your Connection Card.

Right Now Media has some great, free financial resources you can watch today on your phone, tablet, or tv. We can send you a free subscription if you request one on a Connection Card. Our sister church, Westgate Chapel, has invited us to their
Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course beginning this Wednesday. You can find details on our Facebook page.

You say you love God? Prove it! Loving God is more than just having positive thoughts in our mind. Love requires action. Show me your time, talents, and treasures and I’ll show you what you love. It might be your girlfriend, movies, pizza, work, football, or Jesus, but your calendar and checkbook will show what you really love.

My prayer for you—and me—in this new year is that we would go beyond good intentions and be intentional. We need to leave some things behind, stop doing them. We need to develop some new practices and start doing some healthy habits. Here are a few suggestions:

Generosity. Grace. Kindness. Exercise. Love. Healthy eating. Honesty. Forgiveness. Volunteering. Listening.

These don’t all directly show our love for God, but when we love others as we love ourselves, we declare our love for God. I want to close with one of the most important passages in the Bible, written by Jesus’ close friend John.

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

Do you know what this means, family? Treat one another the way you want to be treated. It’s not rocket science, but it requires thought, action, and effort. This next section seems a little extreme, to be honest. I hope this doesn’t apply to anyone in this room!

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:12-15)

Those are strong worlds. I know none of you would ever say, “I hate so-and-so,” right? But do we really love one another?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

Many people know John 3:16. This is 1 John 3:16. It sounds good, right? Love one another. But love is more than a feeling.

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

Here’s what I want you to take away today: love with actions. Love God with actions—your time, talents, and treasures. Love others with actions—your generosity, your kindness, your listening ear, your undivided attention.

What’s your next step? What’s one thing you can do this week—and each week this year—that will show your love for God and others?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Magnificat: Woman of Praise & Humility, 9 December 2018

    Magnificat: Woman of Praise & Humility
    Series—Mary Christmas
    Luke 1:46-56

    Series Overview: Mary may be the most underrated, godly character in the Bible (at least for Protestants!).

    Big Idea: Mary was a true worshiper, filled with praise and humility…and courage.

    This will be shocking news to many of you, but I love music! It’s one of God’s most beautiful gifts. From the time I was brought home from the hospital to today, music fills my ears, my mind, my life!

    The Advent season is one of my favorite times of year, not the least of which is because of the music. It’s the only time of year in which it is politically correct to sing about Jesus!

    What is your favorite Christmas song?

    I found an article that exposed many of the disturbing lyrics in popular songs. For example, in the “
    Twelve Days of Christmas,” the true love would end up receiving 184 birds total. What would you do with 184 birds (I’d rather have the golden rings!).

    In “
    Santa Claus is coming to Town,” Santa is presented as a stalker, always watching if you’re good or bad. Creepy!

    “Do You Hear What I Hear?” the singer hears the night wind and a little lamb talking to them. Hmm.

    In “
    We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” the tone is one of cheer and happiness…until the figgy pudding is mentioned. First they demand, “Bring us some figgy pudding” and then threaten by saying, “We won’t go until we get some!”

    And let’s not even start with
    “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer!”

    My favorite Christmas song might be
    “O Holy Night.” Listen to these lyrics:

    A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
    Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

    Truly He taught us to love one another
    His law is love and His gospel is peace
    Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother
    And in His name all oppression shall cease
    Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we
    His power and glory ever more proclaim!

    There’s great power not only in lyrics, but music itself. In fact, hospitals today are not only filled with physical therapists and occupational therapists but also music therapists who play soothing music to promote relaxation and healing for patients. One writer said, “Music serves as the pinnacle of mankind’s culture, using words, phrases, sounds, tones, pitches, rhythms, and beats to establish both meaning and feeling.”

    Of course, music is nothing new. One of my favorite stories is how some rabbis believe when God spoke creation into existence He actually sang it into being! That must’ve been an amazing song!

    The Bible is filled with music, with songs. Psalms is known as the hymn book of the Bible. Moses sang in Exodus. Songs are mentioned in many books of the Bible. David’s harp caused evil spirits to leave King Saul (1 Samuel 16). I once heard a musician tell stories about playing worship music over sick people and witnessing their healing. Music is powerful.

    We are in the midst of a series on Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a remarkable young woman, likely a teenager when she was chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah.

    As I mentioned last Sunday, while I believe Roman Catholics overrate Mary, Protestants tend to underrate her, some being afraid to even talk about her for fear of worshipping her as some have alleged Catholics of doing. We worship and adore God and honor Mary.

    In addition to her own purity and devotion which led to her selection, she knew the scriptures and wrote one of the most famous songs in history. I don’t think it’s ever been on Top 40 radio, but two thousand years later people are still reading the lyrics and incorporating them into new songs.

    We will look at this special song from Luke 1 today, a song called the
    Magnificat, Latin for the first words of the song, translated “my soul magnifies the Lord.” It has been recited in churches, set to music by my favorite composer—Johann Sebastian Bach, whispered in monasteries, and chanted in cathedrals. It is one of the most famous songs in Christianity.

    The book of Luke begins with an angel telling Zechariah his aged wife, Elizabeth, will have a miracle baby. Last week’s passage describes the same angel, Gabriel, telling Mary she will have a miracle baby.

    Dr. Luke continues his biography of Jesus.

    At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,
    where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:39-41)

    It’s easy to dismiss this as background information, but Mary wastes no time making the 50-70 mile journey to Zechariah’s home. No car. No bus. No bicycle.

    Virgin Mary is told by an angel she will have a baby. Such news was overwhelming in both positive and negative ways. Being chosen as the mother of God was the ultimate opportunity and responsibility, yet it came with unimaginable shame. Today, about 40% of US births are to unmarried women, but back then, the penalty for adultery was stoning!

    Imagine the confirmation, though, when Elizabeth’s baby leaps and offers a blessing to her.

    In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:42-45)

    She’s not blessed above women, but among women…because of her faith, her belief in the LORD and His promises to her. They were big promises!

    Last week I posed two questions:

    What is God saying to you?
    What are you going to do about it?

    I believe when God calls you to do something radical—like plant a church or train for overseas missions…or carry God in your womb—He needs to make the calling clear. Some people think if God calls them to do something, everything will be easy, successful, and fruitful. Usually it’s quite the opposite, especially for a while. I’ve been privileged to meet prospective church planters, people who want to start a church from scratch. I look for a variety of skills and solid character, but I especially want to discern if this is their idea or God’s. When you want to quit—not if—you must return to the calling or you’ll throw in the towel. Sometimes God’s voice is quiet, but before you venture out on something big, it’s reassuring when the call is clear. I’m sure Mary was very encouraged by the supernatural experience and words of Elizabeth.

    What follows is Mary’s response, her song, an incredible expression of praise and humility.

    And Mary said: (Luke 1:46a)

    “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, (Luke 1:46b-47)

    What does your soul glorify? What causes you to rejoice? Really.

    At rock concerts, fans clap, cheer, and yell delighting in the musicians onstage. How can we worship the Creator of the universe with our hands in our pockets and a frown on our faces? Worship is much more than singing songs, but music is one, powerful expression of praise and adoration. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. I’m not suggesting you’re more spiritual if you raise your hands or that the music needs to be deafening loud, but does your soul glorify the LORD?

    Mary was devoted to God.

    Are you? Really? Her praise continues…

    for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. (Luke 1:48a)

    This teenager realized she had no business bringing the Messiah into the world, but she humbly obeyed, taking on the very nature of a servant…just as her Son would do someday.

    From now on all generations will call me blessed, (Luke 1:48b)


    for the Mighty One has done great things for me— (Luke 1:49a)

    Has God done great things for you? What?

    holy is his name. (Luke 1:49b)

    The most important word to you is your name. Perhaps no other word will more quickly grab your attention. Your name is special, and the name of the LORD is even more special. It’s so sacred, in fact, that to this day Jews refuse to speak the holy name of God for fear of taking it in vain or dishonoring it. It’s a Hebrew word we usually pronounce as Yahweh.

    His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. (Luke 1:50)

    This is an especially wonderful promise. We tend to focus on our present world and its citizens, but God’s mercy and faithfulness can reach our kids, grandkids, great grandkids, great great grandkids…well, you get the idea!

    This does not mean we need to be afraid of God, but rather see a relationship with the Creator of the universe as an honor, worthy of respect and reverence. Those who worship the LORD will experience His mercy.

    God was devoted to Mary.

    He is devoted to those who fear and revere Him. Mary then gives examples of God working on behalf of His people.

    He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

    Mary is possibly referencing several different Old Testament passages of scripture, including 1 Samuel, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Ezekiel. Even as a teenage girl, she was devoted to the scriptures. In the absence of the YouVersion smartphone app or even a published Bible, she most likely was attentive to the rabbis in the temple who read from scrolls. For a fascinating study, look at the Magnificat echoes Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel chapter 2.

    He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
    to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:54-55)

    God’s promises are timeless. Forever is a long time! Mary knew her history, and also prophecy concerning the future.

    But Wait!

    This isn’t just a nice praise song filled with up to twelve different Old Testament references. This was a radical song composed in the midst of Herod’s brutal rule. We’ve made the birth of Jesus this sweet, cozy story and even have a collection of pretty songs like Away in a Manger and Silent Night to serve as the soundtrack of the season.

    But his song, the
    Magnificat, is gritty. It’s actual quite radical. In the 1980s, the Guatemalan government banned any public reciting of it for being politically subversive. Months after Mary sang this song, Herod would slaughter every boy two years old and younger in Bethlehem for fear of this newborn King of the Jews would overthrow his rule. I bet you never sang a Christmas carol about that!

    This song speaks boldly about injustice turned upside down, God entering our world to establish justice and remove unjust rulers.

    He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

    Magnificat comes from the first line in the Latin translation, which literally means “my soul glorifies the Lord.” But what follows has been described as being to Mary’s world what “We Shall Overcome” was to African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s.

    This song was threatening to the proud in power…and liberating to the weak and hungry. Mary longed for a day when Herod the Great would be overthrown by a true king in the line of David. She knew what God had done in the past and prophetically declared hints of Isaiah chapter 11:

    A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
    …with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
    He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
    Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

    Both Mary and Isaiah declare so much about God.

    He is merciful to those who fear him.
    He will scatter the proud.
    He will bring down rulers.
    He will lift up the humble.
    He will fill the hungry.
    He will send the rich away empty.

    Today, the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population owns more than half of the world’s
    wealth. If your annual income is $32,400 or more, you’re in the top 1%. You’d have to make more than $400,000 to crack the top 1% in the USA, but in the world, most of us are in the top 1%.

    Suddenly this isn’t just a nice, ancient song, but a protest song with great relevance today. I want you to see Mary not as some weak, soft little girl, but rather a courageous woman who spoke out against the rulers of her day. He son would do the same—and it would get him killed.

    Both Mary and her son, Jesus, were hardly passive, weak biblical characters. Instead, they were filled with grit, resolve, purpose, and passion. We’ll see more of that in the next few weeks or our series.

    Our text for today concludes:

    Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:56)

    What did they do for three months? What did they talk about? How did Mary’s parents feel about this visit? Was Mary kicked out of the house necessitating the stay? There are so many things we don’t know. But there’s plenty we do know.

    So What?

    Mary is a singer. She is a song writer. She is a student of the Bible. She is a worshipper. Are you?

    We know the story. We know what happens…but she knows only what was told to her by the angel. This is a pregnant teenager in a culture that despised unwed moms. It may sound romantic to be the mother of Jesus, but she also would experience not only His death but threats to her own life. The awe and wonder of Gabriel’s announcement was surely tempered by the certain death of her own social standing. The humble, pure girl would be treated like a harlot.

    When Mary conceived, the world was awaiting a Messiah to fix the brokenness caused by sin and death. Jesus failed to meet the expectations of the Jews, arriving not as a warrior king but a vulnerable baby. Rather than killing His enemies, He was killed by them and even prayed for them as He hung on a cross meant for criminals.

    Advent is all about waiting. Mary did it. The Jews did it. Today we do it as we await His return. It won’t be as an infant so tender and mild but as the powerful King of kings and LORD of lords. During this time in-between, we remember His first entrance into our world, His accomplished mission on the cross, His triumphant resurrection, and His departure to prepare a place for us.

    This season’s celebration is not simply about the birthday of the King but what that life means for us today—grace, forgiveness, life, hope, joy, meaning, purpose, and peace.

    Mary was devoted to God.
    God was devoted to Mary.

    The question for today is

    Are you devoted to God?

    Are you a person of praise, singing of God’s goodness and faithfulness, or would people say you’re more of a whiner and complainer?

    Are you a humble servant, willing to obey what God asks you to do, or would people say you’re more of a control freak, living your life for your own safety, comfort and pleasure? Humility is the natural result of knowing who God is. It’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

    Are you a courageous person of conviction and passion, or do you do what’s safe and popular? Does your devotion to God waver when it’s not politically or socially correct?

    I want to be more like Mary!

    This hymn is not just about Mary, but about all who fear God, who revere God, who are devoted to God. They will experience His mercy and grace. God honors the humble and poor—not necessarily financially poor—but poor in spirit, the pious poor, those seeking God, pursuing God, desperate for God, devoted to God. Those who fear God know they are not in control. They are not better than others. They are not proud or self-righteous, instead aware of their need for God. As a result, God sees them, values them, and knows them intimately.

    Devotion to God is not something we just do for an hour on Sunday, but rather a 24/7/365 way of life, regardless of the costs. Make no mistake, Mary suffered for her devotion to Jesus…and the suffering didn’t end after the labor of Jesus’ birth.

    This season, I encourage you to look deeper into the story that changed the world…and that is still changing the world, one life at a time.

    A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices / Fall on your knees!

    Magnificat sung by Kathryn Brinkman

    Credits: some ideas from
    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Bless The LORD, 22 April 2018

    Bless The Lord
    D6 Series—
    Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
    Psalm 103

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

    Big Idea: God is worthy of our praise!

    Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! (Psalms 103:1, ESV)

    We’ve sung the words, but what do they mean?

    Today we are continuing our series, Songs from the Heart, on select Psalms. I have mentioned how the book of Psalms was Israel’s hymnbook…and my favorite book of the Old Testament. The passion, authenticity, and artistry of these lyrics are so real, relevant, and inspiring…thousands of years after their writing.

    On Resurrection Sunday, we saw glimpses of the suffering Jesus in Psalm 22. Then we looked at the Messianic nature of Psalm 72 and God’s love expressed in Psalm 89 last Sunday. Today we turn to Psalm 103.

    At the recent Worship Night in America event, Pastor Darren Whitehead talked about the seven Hebrew words for “praise.” Just saying that makes our English language seem so simplistic!

    The word repeated used in Psalm 103 for “praise” or “bless,” depending upon your translation, is the word “barak.”

    Of David. Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. (Psalms 103:1)

    בָּרַךְ   bāraḵ   means to bless or pronounce blessings, give praise, give thanks, extol, to kneel down, to bow or salute, to bless God as an act of adoration.

    This Hebrew word appears about 300 times in the Old Testament. To bless or praise the LORD is to bow down before Him, acknowledging He is God and we are not, thanking Him and telling others how great He is…in word, song, and deed. Praising or blessing God, then, is more than just words…it’s a lifestyle, an act of worship.

    King David begins this famous psalm by not merely stating, “barak,” but telling his soul, all of his inmost being, to praise the LORD and His holy name.

    The Hebrew name for God is so holy, in fact, that to this day it is never spoken out loud by Jews. The word “Adonai” is a more general term for God, but the holy name which Gentiles often pronounce “Yahweh” is sacred and revered. There is so much in this one short verse. It’s as if David is throwing himself before the LORD saying, “I’m Yours, LORD. All of me. My body. My soul. My heart. My mind. It all thanks You. It all adores You. It all belongs to You.”

    Have you ever felt like that? That’s devotion. That’s passion. That’s worship. And God loves it! This idea of blessing the LORD is the central idea of this psalm. The LORD has blessed David, and David returns the favor.

    Praise the LORD, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
    who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases, (Psalms 103:2-3)

    David tells his soul to forget not. Why? Because we forget! What do we forget? We forget the LORD’s blessings, His benefits.

    Do you like benefits? It seems like every few months I’m getting a notice in the mail about new benefits coming soon to my credit card or changes in my health insurance benefits (not always good changes!). When making a major purchase, one must always learn about the features and benefits of the investment.

    We must not forget the benefits of the LORD. David lists five in this psalm.

  • 1. God has forgiven our sins (all our sins!)
  • 2. God heals all our diseases (someday all diseases will be healed; maybe today!)

  • What else?

    who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
    who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalms 103:4-5)

    Here we see the final three benefits:

  • 3. God redeems our life from the pit (now and beyond the grave)
  • 4. God crowns us with love and compassion (surrounds us, placed upon us)
  • 5. God satisfies our desires with good things (we can satisfy them with bad things!)

  • The result is our youth, our strength, is renewed. Because of the goodness of the LORD we can have hope and passion (one of my prayers for FAC).

    Is this good news, family? Absolutely! The problem for many of us is we forget. I don’t necessarily mean we have no knowledge of these truths, but rather we are so familiar with them we forget their importance, their impact, and we forget to thank God!

    The LORD works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.
    He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
    The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalms 103:6-8)

    Have you ever felt oppressed? Many in our world today are oppressed—by poverty, slavery, injustice…and yet God works on their behalf. He is engaged in righteousness and justice. His timing might not be as quick as we would like, but in the end, justice will prevail.

    Moses and the people of Israel were witnesses of God’s righteousness and deliverance.

    Verse eight is echoed throughout the Bible. From Exodus to Joel to Jonah, this phrase appears:

    “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in love.”

    Because God is just, he gets angry. We should get angry when we see injustice. We simply need to direct our anger appropriately.

    … “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

    Jesus got angry. The Father gets angry, but His anger is limited by His grace, mercy and love.

    He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
    he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalms 103:9-10)

    This is great news! We come to a God of justice but also grace and mercy. He is a God of wrath, but also love. He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Meditate on that for a moment. Hallelujah! People often talk about what they deserve. All I deserve is eternal separation from God because of my sins, yet God does not treat me as my sins deserve. I’m so grateful. Praise the LORD!!!

    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
    as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalms 103:11-12)

    Here’s another oft-quoted scripture. God created the cosmos for us to enjoy. His love is as great as from here to the heavens! That’s infinite!

    Furthermore, our sins are forgiven, sent as far away as from the east to the west. That’s far! That’s infinite!

    God’s love is endless. God’s forgiveness is endless. There’s more!

    As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
    for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust. (Psalms 103:13-14)

    This past week I was thrilled to be present for the formal legal adoption of the Glovers’ son. Watching him during these six months since birth has brought me so much joy, and mine pales in comparison to the joy of mom, dad, and big brother.

    I was thinking about him when I read this verse. His mom and dad know he is small, young, and fragile. God knows even the strongest people on our planet are nothing compared to God’s power. We are all but dust. Those who fear—who revere—God will receive His compassion rather than His wrath and justice for our sins, which reminds of the one child the Father did not have compassion upon—Jesus. He took our punishment. He died on our behalf.

    The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
    the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more. (Psalms 103:15-16)

    Here’s another beautiful image of our weakness, our mortality. We often think we’re so strong and mighty, but when we compare ourselves to God…to the universe…we are like a blade of grass. Yet to God, we are special.

    But from everlasting to everlasting
    the LORD’S love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
    with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalms 103:17-18)

    All good dads love their children. They give age-appropriate feedback and discipline. They encourage, support, and provide for their kids. They are aware of the limitations of little people and nurture them to adulthood.

    But don’t miss the condition—obedience. We talked about this last week. God’s love language is obedience. We love Him because He first loved us. We obey, not out of fear of punishment, but out of reverence, respect, and love. God can be trusted. God’s Word can be trusted. God’s commands can be trusted. He’s a good, good Father.

    The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalms 103:19)

    That’s pretty comprehensive! God’s kingdom rules over all, and not just over us.

    Praise the LORD, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word. (Psalms 103:20)

    The LORD rules over the angels who praise Him.

    Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will. (Psalms 103:21)

    The LORD rules over the heavenly hosts who praise Him.

    Praise the LORD, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion. (Psalms 103:22a)

    The LORD rules over all of creation who praise Him. There’s a great scene in the Palm Sunday account where Jesus warns what will happen if we don’t praise the LORD.

    When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

    “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

    “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

    Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

    “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40)
    I don’t want any stones praising the LORD instead of me!

    And finally, David ends the way he began:

    Praise the LORD, my soul. (Psalms 103:22b)

    So What?

    As the ushers come forward, I want to prepare you for opportunities to praise the LORD. First, you can bless and praise the LORD by giving of your tithes and offerings. The word tithe means ten percent, something of a minimum. All we have belongs to God. We have the freedom to spend and save, but the Old Testament minimum was ten percent to the LORD. Some of you give more than ten percent, which is wonderful. You’ve experienced the joy of generosity as Heather and I have. Worshipping through giving is not the weekly church fundraiser. It’s a way to tangibly declare our allegiance to God.

    If you don’t tithe, I want to encourage you to begin with something. Start with five percent. Start with one percent! I recently learned that in the average church, one third of the people give zero, zip, nada. How sad…for them! Another third give less than $10/week. That might be fine for some of our students whose only income is a paper route, but for many of us ten dollars is less than we spend a week on restaurant tips…and we’re talk about Almighty God! If you’re not prepared to give this morning, no worries. You can give via our free smartphone
    app or on our website, too.

    If we love God, we will obey, and that includes being generous with the resources He has given to us. As you listen to this beautiful song of praise, may it prompt you to fully engage in worship, in blessing the LORD.

    Benediction (containing “barak”)

    ‘ “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ’ (Numbers 6:24-26)

    some ideas from D6, Westside Church Vancouver

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Magnificat: Woman of Praise & Humility, 7 December 2014

    Big Idea: During a visit with Elizabeth, Mary bursts into song, exclaiming timeless truths about God’s power, holiness, mercy, sovereignty, and provision while extolling the virtues of humility. It is one of the first hymns of ancient Christianity and frequently sung in many churches more than two thousand years later.

    Key Scripture: Luke 1:46-56


    This will be a great revelation to you, but I love music! It’s one of God’s most beautiful gifts. From the time I was brought home from the hospital to today music fills my ears, my mind, my life!

    The Advent season is one of my favorite times of year, not the least of which is because of the music. It’s the only time of year in which it is politically correct to sing about Jesus.

    What is your favorite Christmas song?

    This week I found an article that exposed many of the disturbing lyrics in popular songs. For example, in the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” the true love would end up receiving 184 birds total. What would you do with 184 birds (I’d rather have the golden rings!).

    In “Santa Claus is coming to Town,” Santa is presented as a stalker, always watching if you’re good or bad. Creepy!

    In “Do You Hear What I Hear?” the singer hears the night wind and a little lamb talking to them. Hmm.

    In “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” the tone is one of cheer and happiness…until the figgy pudding is mentioned. First they demand, “Bring us some figgy pudding” and then threaten by saying, “We won’t go until we get some!”

    My favorite Christmas song might be “O Holy Night.” Listen to these lyrics:

    A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
    Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

    Truly He taught us to love one another
    His law is love and His gospel is peace
    Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother
    And in His name all oppression shall cease
    Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we
    His power and glory ever more proclaim!

    There’s great power not only in lyrics, but music itself. In fact, hospitals today are not only filled with physical therapists and occupational therapists but also music therapists who play soothing music to promote relaxation and healing for patients.

    Of course music is nothing new. One of my favorite stories is how some rabbis believe when God spoke creation into existence He actually sang it into being.

    The Bible is filled with music, with songs. The book of 1 Samuel describes another powerful use of music.

    Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.

    Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him. (1 Samuel 16:14, 23)

    We are in the midst of a series on Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a remarkable young woman, likely a teenager when she was chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah.

    For the record, while I believe Roman Catholics overrate Mary, Protestants tend to underrate her, some afraid to even talk about her for fear of worshipping her as some have alleged Catholics of doing (disclaimer: two weeks ago I showed a video in which two Catholic priests insisted they do not worship Mary, but they do pray to her which is problematic for me since Jesus is the only mediator between us and the Father, but that’s another matter entirely). We worship and adore God and honor Mary.

    In addition to her own purity and devotion which led to her selection, she knew the scriptures and wrote one of the most famous songs in history. I don’t think it’s ever been on Top 40 radio, but two thousand years later people are still reading the lyrics and incorporating them into new songs.

    We will look at this special song from Luke 1 today, a song called the
    Magnificat, Latin for the first words of the song, translated “my soul magnifies the Lord.”

    Luke 1:46-56

    This song is the Magna Carta of early Christian songs. It poignantly describes the Messiah that was anticipated and would live in Mary’s womb until His birthday.

    Here’s a little background:

    At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,
    where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:39-45)

    And Mary said: (Luke 1:46a)

    “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, (Luke 1:46b-47)

    Ps. 34: 3: Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

    Ps. 35: 9: Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.

    Isa. 61: 10: I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

    1 Sam. 2: 1– 2: Then Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the lord; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. “There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.

    Hab. 3: 18: yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will be joyful in God my Savior.

    for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. (Luke 1:48a)

    1 Sam. 1: 11: And she [Hannah] made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

    1 Sam. 9: 16: “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.”

    Gen. 29: 32: Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

    From now on all generations will call me blessed, (Luke 1:48b)

    Gen. 30: 13: Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.

    Mal. 3: 12: “Then all nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the lord Almighty.

    for the Mighty One has done great things for me— (Luke 1:49a)

    Deut. 10: 21: He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.

    Ps. 71: 19b: You who have done great things. Who is like you, God?

    Zeph. 3: 17: The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

    holy is his name. (Luke 1:49b)

    Ps. 111 :9: He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name.

    His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. (Luke 1:50)

    Ps. 103: 11: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.

    Ps. 103: 17: But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’S steadfast love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.

    Ps. 100: 5: For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

    He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

    1 Sam. 2: 7-8: The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’S, on them he has set the world.

    Ps. 89: 10: You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with your strong arm you scattered your enemies.

    Prov. 3: 34: He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

    Job 12: 19: He leads priests away stripped and overthrows officials long established.

    Ezek. 21: 26b: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.

    Ps. 107: 9: For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

    He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
    to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:54-55)

    Isa. 41: 8-9: But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham, my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, “You are my servant”; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

    Ps. 98: 3: He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

    Mic. 7: 20: You will be faithful to Jacob and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

    2 Sam. 22: 51: He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.

    Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:56)

    So What?

    Mary is a singer. She is a song writer. She is a student of the Bible. She is a worshipper.

    We know the story. We know what happens…but she knows only what was told to her by the angel. This is a pregnant teenager—likely—in a culture that despised unwed moms. It may sound romantic to be the mother of Jesus, but she also would experience not only His death but threats to her own life. The awe and wonder of Gabriel’s announcement was surely tempered by the certain death of her own social standing. The humble, pure girl would be treated like a harlot.

    Cradle - Cross - Crown

    When Mary conceived, the world was awaiting a Messiah to fix the brokenness caused by sin and death. Jesus failed to meet the expectations of the Jews, arriving not as a warrior king but a vulnerable baby. Rather than killing His enemies, He was killed by them and even prayed for them as He hung on a cross meant for criminals.

    Advent is all about waiting. Mary did it. The Jews did it. Today we do it as we await His return. It won’t be as an infant so tender and mild but as the powerful King of kings and LORD of lords. During this time in-between, we remember His first entrance into our world, His accomplished mission on the cross, His triumphant resurrection, and His departure to prepare a place for us.

    This season’s celebration is not simply about the birthday of the King but what that life means for us today—grace, forgiveness, life, hope, joy, meaning, purpose, and peace.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Habakkuk, 2 November 2014

    Big Idea: We don’t always understand God and His timing, but He can be trusted.


    Today we examine our bonus eleventh book in our series The Most Unread Books of the Bible, based upon the ten least-read books on BibleGateway.com.


    Timing in life is vitally important. Photographers long for the perfect timing of an event to capture it forever. Runners and other speed racers can win or lose a race by 1/1000 of a second. I used to think I was a patient person, but I find myself frustrated at the brief delays in my life caused by red lights, slow microwaves (!), and seasons of life, both literal and figurative (unless it’s spring or summer!). God’s timing is perfect because He is perfect, He is sovereign and in control. Daddy knows best.

    Sometimes we feel like God is sleeping or even a myth because He usually doesn’t respond to our prayers on demand. We want it now! Have you ever prayed, “LORD, heal them tomorrow” or “Please give me a new job next year”? We assume we know best and God should obey our every command. Fortunately He doesn’t! He has bigger plans and ideas…if we only trust Him.


    This is the only book in which the name Habakkuk appears. His name means to embrace or wrestle with God. He likely lived around 600 BC. He lived during Judah’s final days and Babylon’s domination.

    Chapter 1: Wrestling. Why?

    The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. (Habakkuk 1:1)

    This word oracle in the original Hebrew language,
    mas-saw’, meant an utterance, a doom, or a burden. Habakkuk is definitely burdened!

    How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

    Most prophets deliver God’s message to the people. Habakkuk brings the questions of the people to God. He begins with four questions.

    Can you feel the anxiety? The frustration? Where are You, LORD? Do You see what’s going on? Are You really sovereign, in control? If so, surely You don’t want

    • Ebola spreading
    • the Islamic State to continue
    • innocent children dying from dirty water and starvation
    • Your chosen people, the Jews, in constant battle in Israel
    • natural disasters destroying communities

    Whoever said following Jesus was easy?! This world is messed up! God knows. He sees. He does choose to intervene sometimes, but when? Why? It’s okay to ask God. It’s okay to have questions and doubts. God can handle them. It’s okay to ask why. Jesus even did it on the cross: “Why have You forsaken Me?”

    Obviously our perspective is limited. Daddy knows best. The cross comes before the crown.

    What is your favorite book of the Bible? Mine is the Psalms. As a musician, I especially love the poetic song lyrics contained within the Bible’s song book. However, they are not all happy songs of praise. One third are psalms of lament. They are songs of grief. There is an entire book of the Bible devoted to lament—Lamentations. Why? Because life is hard. There are many battles in which evil wins. As long as satan and his demons are allowed to roam we will experience death, destruction, and pain.

    Today is not the end of the story, however. There is more to come. Much more. 75 or 100 years seems like a lifetime. Wait! It
    is a lifetime, but compares to eternity, it’s instant. As Paul said to the church in Corinth

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

    Back to Habakkuk. Here’s God’s response to his lament.

    “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep past like the wind and go on — guilty men, whose own strength is their god.” (Habakkuk 1:5-11)

    God says the solution is the Babylonians. Huh? God would use Babylon to judge Judah. How could God use the wicked Babylonians to judge His chosen people?

    O LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O LORD, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. (Habakkuk 1:12-14)

    Again, God can handle our questions. I have found sometimes when I express my questions, I feel better even if I don’t get the answers I’m seeking.

    Three young men refused to bow to an idol and were sentenced to burning in a fiery furnace. If you recall the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they did not deny the reality of their situation, but understood God may or may not perform a miracle. Instead of denial, they were defiant.

    Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

    “Even if not.” They understood God knows best. He may choose to say yes, no, or wait. They knew God could be trusted, whatever His decision.

    In this instance, He entered the fire with them. King Nebuchadnezzar said

    “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25)

    It’s better to be in the furnace with Jesus that without Him outside of it. Where is God when it hurts? With us. Always.

    Chapter 2: Waiting on God. When?

    “Waiting” means to pass time. It also means to serve another person like a servant waiting on his master.

    Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright — but the righteous will live by his faith — indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples. (Habakkuk 2:2-5)

    Do you like to wait? I hate to wait! When we wrestle with God we often ask “why?” When we wait, the question becomes “when?”

    It’s time for a geology lesson! Geology is the study of pressure plus time. Pressure and time reveal our character. Do you know what pressure over time produces geologically? Diamonds. They are created from the carbon as coal but time and pressure create a jewel.

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

    This is your diamond, your reward. Can you wait? Can you trust God?

    God wants us happy, but He especially wants us holy. Pressure plus time equals beauty.

    What is the largest diamond in the world? The Hope Diamond!

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

    The judgment would occur very soon as God stated. They could remain proud like the Babylonians (we talked about the pride of the Edomites last week) or live by faith knowing God is in control.

    Verse four is one of the most important verses in the Bible. In fact, it is referenced three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38). It is through faith in Jesus that we can receive the righteousness of God.

    For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

    Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)

    But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (Hebrews 10:38)

    We are saved by faith.
    We are to live by faith.

    Notice how Habakkuk is able to express his questions in the midst of faith.

    Next Habakkuk offers a series of woes against the Babylonians. God would bring them down in His perfect timing.

    “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, “‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?’ Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim. Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them. “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them. “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:6-20)

    Chapter 3: Worship.

    Chapter three is Habakkuk’s final response, a song (v. 19). He asks for mercy (2) and describes the character of God (v. 3-15).

    A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On
    shigionoth. LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed. His ways are eternal. (Habakkuk 3:1-6)

    Habakkuk remembers what God has done. Sometimes the way forward is to first look back. The Old Testament is filled with spiritual amnesia, instances of people forgetting God’s goodness and faithfulness. We need to remember. Jesus told us to remember Him, His death, and His resurrection.

    I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish. Were you angry with the rivers, O LORD? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode with your horses and your victorious chariots? You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. Selah You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear. In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot. Selah With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters. (Habakkuk 3:7-15)

    What is the result of Habakkuk’s laments, woes, and anguish?

    I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. (Habakkuk 3:16)

    He accepts what God is doing and then trusts Him. Here’s the conclusion…

    Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:16b-19)

    He was willing to wait. No matter how hopeless the situation, there is hope in God. Tomorrow is coming. As Tony Campolo used to say concerning the crucifixion, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

    God can be trusted. The righteous will live by faith. The best is yet to come. In the meantime, we can worship by faith, offering up a sacrifice of praise.

    For Further Study

    Where is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey

    Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

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

    Jesus Prays For Himself & His Disciples, John 17:1-19, 28 July 2013

    Big Idea: We can learn much from listening to someone’s prayers.


    Have you ever eavesdropped on a conversation? Why? Perhaps you wanted to obtain some secret information or learn what is being said behind your back.

    I believe you can learn much about a person by eavesdropping…on their prayers! I love listening to people pray because it often expresses their deepest thoughts and feelings, especially when those prayers are unedited.

    Children are, of course, the greatest example of this. Their prayers are brutally honest. Imagine overhearing some of these actual prayers from kids:

    "Dear God, I went to this wedding and they were kissing right there in church. Is that OK?"

    "Dear God, thank You for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy."

    "Dear God, it must be super hard to love all the people in the world, especially my brother. I don't know how You do it."

    "Dear God, I love Christmas and Easter. Could you please put another Holiday in the middle, there's nothing good in there now."

    "Dear God, are you actually invisible or is that just a trick?"

    "Dear God, I want to be just like my daddy when I grow up but without so much hair all over."

    "Dear God, I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart I had to have 3 stitches and a shot."

    "Dear God, did you mean for giraffes to look like that or was it an accident?"

    "Dear God,maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they each had their own rooms. It works out OK with me and my brother."

    "Dear God, I heard the moon was made of cheese. Tonight half of it is missing. Did you get hungry?"

    "Dear God, if You can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am!"

    "Dear God, I say your prayer every night, 'lead us not into temptation and deliver us some e-mail' but I never get an e-mail from you. Do you have my right address?"

    John 17

    Today we turn to the seventeenth chapter of John, one of four biographies of Jesus. If you have a red-letter Bible with Jesus’ words in red, you’ll notice this entire chapter is a quote, but unlike His teachings, this is a record of His prayer to the Father before His arrest and crucifixion, the longest prayer in the Bible.

    In Deuteronomy 32-33 we read Moses’ farewell prayer and Jesus’ here is similar.

    The prayer has three sections that have parallel themes. We will look at the first two parts of the prayer today—Jesus’ prayer for Himself and His disciples—and examine His prayer for us in two weeks.

    What is the LORD’s Prayer? It’s not “Our Father.” That is what He taught His followers to pray, but it was not His prayer. He had no sins to to be forgiven.

    This is the prayer of our LORD Jesus Christ, a prayer that will summarize Jesus’ heart and ministry.

    Jesus Prays For Himself

    After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

    Before we look at His words, notice His posture. For some reason, evangelical Christians tend to ignore our bodies when we pray, yet people from other traditions and even religions are conscious of the physical when they engage the spiritual. It says that Jesus looked toward heaven, a common Jewish prayer posture. Although it is not explicit in the text, He likely raised His hands as well (Ex. 9:33; 17:11; Ps 28:2).

    “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (1-5)

    Prayer is not about you. It’s about the Father, our loving Father. Jesus’ Aramaic title for God was
    Abba. He’s Daddy. Even the adult children of my friend, Clark, call him Papa. I love that! It’s not a distant, formal “Father” but Daddy. He’s the focus. Jesus prays first for Himself. We can pray for ourselves, too.

    What do you need? What do you want? Tell Daddy!

    My kids have developed the ability to communicate what they want/need!

    Jesus prays to the Father and knows it is time for Him to die.

    The hour comes for all of us, our hour of suffering and/or death. We usually pray that suffering doesn’t come. Where do you go when you face trials? Alcohol, food, sex, gossip,…the best place to go is to your Daddy.

    Jesus didn’t pray, “Get me out of this” but rather “get me through this.”

    If you’re going to suffer, don’t waste it! Use it to honor and glorify God. To glorify means to praise or bring homage. Jesus was preparing for the cross, the most shameful place imaginable, yet for Jesus a place of honor as He is obedient to the Father’s mission.

    Jesus has been given all authority…all authority! He even has the authority to forgive sins and reconcile sinners with their heavenly Father.

    An integral part of our mission is the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. The key to the commission is to make disciples, but we are only able to make disciples because Jesus has all authority.

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

    Notice that “eternal life” comes from knowing God—not possessing knowledge about God as the religious leaders did, but rather the Hebrew knowing which includes experience and intimacy, obedience and love for God.

    In verse five, Jesus clearly states He was with the Father in the beginning, Genesis 1:1, before the world began. Only God has glory (Isaiah 42:8).

    Jesus prays for Himself, that He would suffer so sinners would know and follow Him.

    “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. (6-8)

    Here again we see this intimate relationship between Jesus and Daddy.

    Verse 9 shifts to His followers. We see Him speaking like a shepherd about to lay down His life for His sheep.

    Jesus Prays For His Disciples

    I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
    All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. (9-12)

    The word “world” in the Greek has several different meaning. Here it’s not that Jesus doesn’t love everyone—He will die for everyone—but that He doesn’t love the world’s system that hates Him.

    Here again we see the intimate, shared relationship between the Father and Son.

    Protect them. Jesus knows that there is a very real enemy that wants to steal, kill and destroy (Jn 10:10). Sheep without a shepherd are especially vulnerable. Daddies know their kids and keep an eye on them. God’s a good Daddy.

    Make them one. There is one God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This prayer for unity will be echoed later. A house divided cannot stand. The goal is not unity for unity’s sake, though, but rather a common focus, mission, and relationship with the Father. We are to reconciled to God and to one another as Christians. Sometimes we fight and sin against one another but unity is God’s desire for us.

    Many people in our culture see everything through the lens of “me.” What’s in it for me?

    Jesus wants us to glorify Him first and think “we” next. Families have to love and submit to one another. Jesus prays that we are one.

    What about Judas? He betrayed Jesus and hung himself. Judas never loved Jesus. He stole money from Jesus and sold Him out for thirty pieces of silver (see Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 27).

    “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (13-19)

    The mark of the Christian is joy, not the pursuit of happiness. As we said last week, joy comes from the Holy Spirit. It is not dependent upon our circumstances. When, not if, we suffer and die, it can glorify God and be used to grow us and others. Joy only comes from the LORD. Jesus said in chapter sixteen that He would send the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). The world is not where we find joy, but where we love and serve others. This world is not our home.

    Jesus prays that He would suffer well and that His disciples would suffer well.

    We can’t do everything. We need wisdom to know how to live within our many limits.

    Again He prays that the Father would protect them.

    His final prayer is that they be sanctified, separated, made holy for a divine mission.

    “For them” Jesus was sanctified and set apart. He was about to give His life for His followers…and us.


    Jesus’ prayers reveal His true heart and mission. He wants to glorify the Father, Daddy. He affirms His deity and intimacy with the Father as one-third of the Trinity, one God in three Persons. He underscores what it means to know God and have eternal life. Joy, mission and unity are strong themes, and finally sanctification, being set apart.

    We live in the now and the not yet, citizens of heaven yet residents of earth, called on mission to be in the world and love the people of the world but not become of the world and its systems and values that refuse to glorify God.

    We are in the midst of a very real tension between heaven and earth, good and evil. In this life we will have trouble, Jesus said in the previous chapter, yet when we fix our eyes and hope on Jesus, we can pursue His mission for His glory.


    Some ideas from The High Priestly Prayer sermon by Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church and The NIV Application Commentary, John by Gary Burge.

    You can listen to the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    Creative Worship Experience, 21 October 2012

    Big Idea: This brief message was presented in the midst of Scio Community Church’s Creative Worship Experience that featured a number of artistic creations and presentations offered to God as worship. God is an artist, and you are His greatest masterpiece,

    God is an artist. This is a phrase that we commonly declare at the greenroom on Monday nights. It’s appropriate to mention God’s creativity in the midst of a celebration of human creativity as we have experienced worship through dance, writing, visual arts, music, and drama—not merely presentations, but also creations.

    Genesis 1-2 tell us about God’s work as an artist, creating the universe and beyond, but He saved His greatest work for day six, the formation of man and woman. Many today speak of humans as mere animals on par with monkeys, dolphins, and even frogs. Unlike other creatures, we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). That image was affected by the Fall and we are unsure exactly how we resemble our Creator, but the fact remains that we were given a special place among living beings.

    You are God’s masterpiece. Ephesians 2:10 tells that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are to resemble the Creator. We are to be His representatives on planet earth. Psalm 139 is filled with vivid images of how we were known in our mother’s womb and created unique and special.

    Artists often sign their name to their work. It identified the creator with the creation. God has left His mark on you. What can people learn about the Artist by looking at your life?

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Contagious Worship, 14 October 2012

    Big Idea: Authentic worship is contagious. Is yours?

    We began our series several weeks ago talking about Who we worship, an awesome Creator who is worthy of our worship. We then had a worship “service” and put our faith into action, glorifying God with our hands as we served tornado victims in Dexter. We looked at why we worship and then how we worship on Sundays when we gather, saying it’s not about you and your preferences, but about God. Last Sunday we examined how to worship throughout the week, glorifying God with our work, rest, school work, diet, and everything we do.

    What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word

    What do you think of when you hear the word contagious?

    We are moving into the time of year when diseases are spread. Fortunately, germs and illness are not the only things that can be contagious! Worship can be contagious, to both those that follow Jesus and those that are not yet disciples of Christ.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m often inspired by the worship of others. Whether it’s the artistry of a painter, the eloquence of a great sermon, a passionate musical performance, or even the demonstrative engagement with songs of praise, I am often drawn into worship by others.

    It is one of my hopes that our worship would be so passionate that the presence of God would be so powerful that everyone in attendance, regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey, would know that God is real.

    Worship—not merely songs, but a lifestyle of honoring and glorifying God—is contagious to the world, too. Historically, we’ve often approached unbelievers with judgment and condemnation. Instead of messages like “turn or burn” or even, “Do you know Jesus?” I am becoming increasingly aware of our need to practice what we preach and live a life that others want to imitate.

    As we seek to make—and become—disciples of Jesus, one essential question must be considered...

    Am I living a life that people want to follow?

    We want to point people to Jesus, the ultimate example of what it means to be human. None of us is perfect, but our lives should increasingly look like His. Otherwise, our witness is not authentic. People can smell fake a mile away!

    We are dishonest if we tell people how wonderful it is to know Jesus and yet live miserable lives ourselves.

    What difference has Jesus made in your life? Really?

    Do you just talk the talk, or do you walk the walk? Can people really see Jesus through you? Do you look more like Him each day? As you spend time with Christ in prayer and in His Word are you becoming transformed?

    As we seek to glorify Jesus by loving Him and our neighbor, if we are filled with the Spirit and looking more like Jesus every day, if we are "Jesus with skin on" serving others, and if our worship is authentic and passionate, it will be contagious. 

    Look at what Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, wrote

    Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

    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 what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart 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. (1 Peter 3:8-16)

    What needs to happen in order for someone to ask the reason for the hope that you have? You have to have hope, and it has to be visible.

    The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we will look like Jesus, and Jesus is attractive to the world. Ironically, He’s often unattractive to religious people, some of whom crucified Him!

    Consider these words from Paul...

    Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  (Colossians 3:5-6)

    People are watching you. They want to know if Jesus is real in your life. It has been said that you are the only Bible many people will ever read. What will they discover?

    How do you treat your neighbor? Your co-worker? That odd family member? The guy that drives you crazy?

    Jesus said...

    You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

    Do you see the result of shining the light? People will praise God. They will glorify God. Worship will be contagious!

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    How We Worship Monday through Saturday, 7 October 2012

    Big Idea: Worship is not meant to be an hour on Sunday, but a lifestyle.


    What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word

    Last week we talked about how to worship God on Sundays. We previously said that our mission as a church—and as humans following Jesus—is ultimately to

    glorify God.

    We worship and glorify God because He deserves it. He is God. He is worthy.

    As consumers, we easily make Sunday mornings—and the rest of the week—about us rather than Him.

    Today our subject is how to worship God on Monday morning...and throughout the week.



    Several years ago I was speaking with a friend who attended our church. She was a medical professional who helped countless people with physical needs. During our conversation, she made mention of the fact that she admired me for choosing a ministry vocation while her work was so much less significant. I immediately corrected her and said, “God has called you to the marketplace. He has called me to professional church work. Neither is more spiritual or significant, so long as we are being faithful and obedient to our calling.”

    How many of you are students?

    How many of you are employed in the marketplace?

    How many of you are stay-at-home men or women?

    How many of you are full-time job seekers?

    How many of you are retired?

    How many of you are vocational ministers?

    How many of you are still awake?!

    Our text for this morning is a popular one written by Paul to a church in the city of Colossi.

    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

    This passage tells us how to live. It provides guidance on daily living. The most striking verse to me is the final one:

    And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

    Whatever you do. The original Greek word, tis, translated “whatever” means anything. The word “word” means word (!), spoken or written with a desire to communicate. Not surprisingly, the word that is translated “deed” (ergon in the Greek) means work, activity, task, or job.

    Do you get the idea? The reason the first of the Ten Commandments speak of making God God and not ourselves is that He is God. He is the great, awesome, Artist. He deserves our best...everywhere...always. He is to be worshiped not only with songs on Sunday but devotion daily...every moment!

    What did you eat for breakfast today? Did you know breakfast can be worship? Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth...

    So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

    What does this say about our diet? Our bodies? Our time? Our lives?

    Much of our time is spent working, so back in Colossians, the third chapter talks about workers—both free and slaves—and continues

    Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

    Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus.
    Whatever you do, giving thanks to God.
    Whatever you do, worship...glorify God.

    This means make your work worship.
    This means make your homework and study time worship.
    This means make your recreational life worship.
    This means make every part of your life worship.

    Martin Luther understood this when he wrote, "The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays -- not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship."
    Students, your work is school. Study hard...to glorify God. Do your homework...to honor your father and mother...but also to glorify God.
    Some people see life as pieces of a pie. One piece is work, another education, finances, recreation, friends, etc. God is not intended to be a slice of your life. He is the crust upon which everything rests!
    Worship is a lifestyle. Everything we do should bring glory to God.

    Does it? Of course not! But we can choose to glorify Him with our time, talents, treasures, ...with everything!

    Years ago a friend sent me a recording of a sermon he preached on worship. He said that whatever we do to glorify God is worship, including intimacy with his wife! Marriage is actually a beautiful portrait of the Trinity as a man and woman join with God to create a family. When a husband and wife are one with Christ at the center, it's three in one. My friend was known to say to his wife, “Hey, wanna worship tonight?”

    Does that thought offend you? It shouldn’t. Everything that God made is good, and when we enjoy God’s gifts—be they a spouse, a sunset, freedom, music, friends—we glorify Him.

    Let’s not forget that while work can be worship, so can rest. We have work and Sabbath. They are both to glorify God.

    Do you remember what the Westminster Catechism said?

    Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

    There is a dangerous tendency in the church to compartmentalize aspects of our faith. For instance, we often “come into God’s presence” in church, which implies we leave it when we leave church. We “enter into a time of worship” when the band stands up, which suggests when they sit down our worship ceases. We attend a worship “service” and hope to be served.
    What if glorifying God was not something we do on Sundays, but a lifestyle?
    Friends, for some of you I have great news, and for others not-so-great news:
    God is watching!
    Like Santa Clause, He sees you when you’re sleeping and He knows when you’re awake! More than your actions, He actually knows your heart, your motivations, your thoughts. He knows what you see on your computer, how you feel about your boss, when you are bitter, and when you are afraid.
    Worship is about dying to yourself and living all of life for the glory of God.
    Let’s worship!

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    How We Worship on Sundays, 30 September 2012

    Big Idea: We gather on Sundays to worship God, not ourselves.

    I want to begin by stating the obvious...
    it’s not about you!

  • Scio Community Church exists 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.

  • ...so that God is glorified. It’s about Him. Period. We gather to glorify Him. Scio Community Church is not a distributor of religious goods and services. Our primary purpose does not involve meeting your needs, taking care of your kids, or making you feel good. That may happen, but that’s not ultimately why we are here.

    David Platt, in his book
    Radical which has been our theme for 2012, wrote

    when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.


    It’s hard to check our consumeristic impulses at the door on Sunday mornings. After all, we spend six days a week bombarded by messages that say it’s all about us.

    As we noted three weeks ago, the first of the ten commandments tell us to have no other gods and no idols. It’s natural to do those things that make us comfortable and safe. But it’s dangerous.

    Consumerism tells us to worship ourselves. Self-worship, according to
    The Satanic Bible, is the essence of Satanism, not the worship of Satan. When you worship, are you a consumer, or are you consumed by Jesus?

    Without realizing it, we are all tempted to worship when and how and where we find convenient and comfortable. It is those preferences that bring about controversy and division.

    Contemporary or traditional.
    Hymns or praise songs.
    Loud or soft.
    Formal or casual.
    Long or short gatherings.
    King James or NIV.
    Organs or guitars.
    Good music or country!!!

    Brothers and sisters, should it matter? If it’s truly about God, we should be able to worship Him wherever, however, whenever, with whomever! It’s about making Jesus smile, not us!

    We have over 300 churches in Washtenaw County. They are separated by geography and theology, but much of the differences are methodology.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I have preferences. Experiences in my past have shaped the type of music I prefer, the translation of the Bible I use, and the attire I wear. I must be careful to never let those cultural biases shift my focus away from the One I seek to worship. It’s not about me. It’s not about you.
    It’s about God being glorified.

    The Power of Music

    Worship is more than just singing songs, but music is a powerful way in which we express our worship to God. If you’ve ever been to a rock concert, you know it can bring thousands of people together like nothing else. A lullaby can calm a restless child. A dissonant song can scare a movie audience. A rousing anthem can fire up an athlete. A thumping dance beat can energize a crowd of dancers.

    God created music. Contrary to what many said in the 1980’s, there is no such thing as music of the devil because satan cannot create anything. He can only copy, distort, and destroy. He takes beautiful things created by God and ruins them.

    God created music, and the Bible is full of it! Over 100 verses mention singing in the Bible.

    David would play the harp for King Saul and it would sooth his soul.

    Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him. (1 Samuel 16:23)

    Music has a spiritual power.

    There are numerous accounts of people singing in the Scriptures. Maybe you’ve heard some of these:

    Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. (Exodus 15:1)

    About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25)

    Music is often prayer. Look at this fascinating verse:

    So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. (1 Corinthians 14:15)

    We can sing with our spirit and mind!

    We are also commanded to worship.

    We read earlier in Psalm 100...

    Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100)

    Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, ...
    (Ephesians 5:19)

    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

    Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (James 5:13)

    Hebrews 13:15 tells us to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his Name.”

    God Sings!

    We were created in the image of God, so it should be no surprise that He also sings. In fact, He sings over us.

    Has anyone ever sung over you? God has.

    The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

    That verse alone should make us want to respond with worship and song.

    We will sing in the future

    And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (Revelation 14:3)


    In Hebrew, the word used for worship in the Old Testament—shachah—means more to bow down than anything else. When the Israelites spoke of worshiping God, they understood it as bowing down before Him. Similarly, in the New Testament, the commonly used Greek word for worship—proskuneo—suggests the act of getting down on one’s knees and adoring.

    We can stand, kneel, dance, sing, lift up our hands, shout, and clap as we worship God. Doing or not doing does not make you more or less spiritual, but we have been given freedom to worship God, provided we respect those around us.

    Other Things On Sunday

    Can we worship on Sundays without music? Of course! Two weeks ago we worshiped by serving tornado victims. You can worship by serving others, whether it be teaching children, playing an instrument, running sound, or cleaning.

    We worship God with our finances. When we give back to God a portion of what He has given to us, it can be an act of worship. Unlike the IRS, it is not forced, but all that we have belongs to Him, and when we offer up our money, time, talents, dreams, and relationships to Him in an effort to glorify Him, He is blessed.

    Worship is an attitude of the heart. When you gather on Sundays, are you seeking to glorify God? Is it about Him?

    Acceptable and unacceptable worship

    It’s not enough to go through the motions. We see the outside, but God knows our heart.

    One of the first offerings of worship was accompanied by the first homicide. How’s that for an association?

    The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

    Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
    (Genesis 4:4b-7)

    Cain and Abel each provided offerings to God. For reasons we do not know for sure, Abel’s offering was acceptable and Cain’s was rejected. This may have been why Cain murdered his brother.

    We do know that true worship is more than just outwardly singing songs or even putting money in the offering. Those are merely tangible ways we express our love and worship to the Almighty.

    R.C. Sproul has said that

    the giving of adoration and praise to God, the honoring and blessing and esteeming and reverence of God, an outward expression of an inward awe and reverence to God is worship. True faith that holds God in the highest possible esteem—the fear of the LORD—is required...Our most foundation of obligation as creatures is giving honor to God.

    Praise is an attempt to express honor. However, God is never honored by flattery or insincere praise.

    They honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8)

    Every sacrifice I have offered has been tainted with sin.

    Amazingly, God loves the sincere worship of His children. We don’t have to worship, but that’s what makes it so special to God. He could have made robots, but we can choose when, how, and even what we worship.

    All of life should be about worship, reflecting the glory of God back to Him. It all begins with remembering the God we worship and His great love for us. We love because He first loves us.

    You can listen to the podcast

    Why We Worship, 23 September 2012

    Big Idea: We worship God as we do life with God and realize He is worthy.

    Two weeks ago we looked at our mission statement and said that we ultimately exist to glorify God. It’s about Him. It’s why we gather. It’s why we scatter. He created us to love Him and our neighbor and to make disciples. Every dollar we spend and every moment on the church calendar is about

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

    so that God is glorified.

    I want to focus on a simple question regarding glorifying God.


    Sure, you could say it is because the elders put it in the mission statement, but seriously, why worship? Why glorify God?

    Author Skye Jethani in his recent book
    With illustrates four ways we can approach God:

    Life over God. This is life lived apart from God. We ignore Him and keep Him away. Science has control over the world and we don’t need God. Atheism is the most extreme view, but this could even be having a relationship with the Bible and its teachings but not a relationship with God.

    Life under God. This is legalism. If we are good to God, He will be good to us. If we screw up, we’re in trouble. It’s all about what we do. Rituals and morality will result in God’s blessings. Go to church, be good, and God will bless you. You can control God by doing the right thing. It’s about controlling God predicated by fear.

    Life from God. This is when we pursue God for what He can do for us. As consumers, we want God to be a cosmic genie, giving us everything we want, whether it is money or a spouse or even spiritual gifts. If we don’t get what we want, we assume He is dead or doesn’t love us and we try harder to appease Him. This is moralistic, therapeutic deism. Most USAmerican teenagers have this view of God, according to recent research. This view sees God as one-dimensional. God exists to serve me. This is the health-and-wealth gospel. God is a divine butler or a cosmic therapist. When He doesn’t serve their desires, they walk away. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15 doesn’t want a relationship with his father, but rather his father’s stuff. This is the epitome of consumer Christianity.

    Life for God. This is where we reverse it. God doesn’t exist to serve you, you exist to serve God. You must live for the mission and purpose of God, which can be a good motive, but believe that God is disappointed with us when we struggle with sin. The way to avoid the fear of insignificance is to do more for God. The activist generation is good, but serving must be out of compassion, not searching for significance. Your value is not in what you accomplish.

    The problem with all four approaches is that each includes fear and control.

    The truth is, In the midst of your sin, God still loves you!

    The other son in the Prodigal Son story is upset. He says, “I’ve served you all of these years but you never gave me a party, yet my playboy brother messes up his life and you celebrate.”

    The father says that the most important thing was not the son’s obedience or his brother’s disobedience but his children’s presence.

    Life for God, is a life lived for the mission, the life-purpose, rather than for the One who created your life. It is a life lived for the purpose and authentication provided by accomplishing the mission or goal, rather than remaining in relationship with God and letting Him provide our value.

    There is a fifth way to view God.

    Life with God. This is the essence of the Christian life.

    Every other posture uses God. He is the how. Jesus taught that He is not just the Way but the Life. He is not just how to get the treasure. Jesus is the treasure.

    John Piper has said that the gospel is not how people get to heaven; the gospel is how people get to God.

    Do you want God?

    The primary purpose of the Church before mission and teaching and music and community is to give a ravishing vision of who Jesus Christ is and let Him draw people to Himself.

    We can surrender to the perfect God who loves us and will never let us go.

    Before we are called to something or somewhere we are called to someone.

    Why do we worship? Why do we serve, share, send? Why do we sing? It should not be out of guilt or obligation or to win God’s favor, but rather it should be a natural response to knowing and loving Him.

    John said so simply that

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    He made the first move. Actually He made the first moves.

    First, He created this amazing planet—and universe—for us to enjoy.

    Then He created us, male and female.

    After we corrupted ourselves and the world with sin, He was not satisfied with our condition. At one point He wiped out nearly every person on earth with a flood, but spared all living creatures on the ark built by Noah.

    After hundreds of years of waiting, the Father sent Jesus Christ to live, teach, and ultimately die for us to demonstrate His love for us. It was on the cross that our sins were cast upon Jesus.

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

    We worship as a response to who God is. He is God. He is Creator. He is King. He is the ultimate Artist. He is the definition of love. He is the Beginning and the End. He is the all-powerful One. He is the ever-present One. He is the all-knowing One.

    We worship because He is worthy. He deserves it.

    The tragedy is that so many people are clueless. They don’t give a thought about God. Maybe it is that they’re too busy to notice the beauty around them. Perhaps it is because they bought the lie that we’re all just an accident, the result of random chance. We know from Scripture that the enemy has blinded them.

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

    Last month I took my son to Chicago for an overnight getaway. My to-do list included a baseball game and Giordano’s pizza. On the second day, we found ourselves downtown with a couple of hours to spare before the Megabus departed for Ann Arbor. Much to my surprise and delight, he asked me if we could go to the Art Institute.

    They say that art is in the eye of the beholder, and there are certainly some odd things in most any art museum, but there are other works that evoke awe and wonder.

    When we walked by Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a guide was explaining patterns, colors, alignment, and other details that I never noticed. Sure, it is a picture of a farmer and his daughter, but there is far more if you take the time to look and study.

    I have been told that the greatest scientific discoveries today are done at the micro and macro level. We are learning more each day about tiny things invisible to the naked eye such as DNA and sub-atomic particles. We are also discovering planets and stars and galaxies that we never knew existed, that the universe is greater than anyone imagined a generation ago.

    Most of the artists that created the works we saw in Chicago have died, but if they were living and stood beside their painting, I could not possibly ignore them. I would praise them for their artistry. I might ask questions about their inspiration and process. When we experience beauty, it is difficult to not respond.

    Why do we worship? It is a natural response to who He is. If you don’t know who He is, it’s hard to worship Him! This is why we study His Word. This is why we use photos and videos to display His art. This is why many of us are so captivated by a walk at Gallup Park, a trip to the beach, or even a visit to the zoo.

    Earlier this year our family traveled to southern California and as we shared our favorite places, I don’t think anyone mentioned Hollywood or an amusement park. Instead, everyone talked about the beach, the zoo, and especially the wild seals at La Jolla. We were in awe of God’s creation.

    It has been said that we offer praise and thanksgiving for the things that God has done, but we worship just because of who He is. God is God, regardless of your health, your wealth, your marital status, or your grade point average. He is worthy of worship on sunny days and in the midst of storms. He is deserving of glory when you feel like it and when you don’t.

    Worship is reflecting the glory of God back to Him. The more you know Him, the more you do life
    with Him, the more you will respond in worship.

    Worship is offering your world back to God.

    The real question this morning is do you want God?

    The primary purpose of the Church before mission and healing and transforming the culture is to give a ravishing vision of who Jesus Christ is and let Him draw people to Himself. - Skye Jethani

    The Heart of Worship

    Perhaps your view and understanding of God and worship has shifted this morning. I know I have misunderstood worship. I’ve often made it about me. I’ve spent so much time worshiping myself—doing what I want, thinking about me—rather than pausing to get perspective on how great our God is and how weak and small and inadequate I am, yet also in awe of how much He loves a broken, sinful person like me. He invites us into His presence. He wants to be with us. He wants to live with us. He wants to know us. He wants to love us.

    It’s all about Him.

    You can listen to the podcast

    Worship Service, 16 September 2012

    There was no message this Sunday as we had a worship “service,” leaving our church facility to serve local tornado victims, putting our faith into action and being “Jesus with skin on.”

    Awesome God: Who We Worship, 9 September 2012

    Big Idea: We worship and seek to glorify an awesome God.

    What does glorified mean?

    It means to make glorious!
    To make glorious by bestowing honor, praise, or admiration
    To light up brilliantly
    To give glory to, as in worship

    That’s the bottom line of why Scio exists...and why you were created.

    It has been often said that we live in a consumeristic culture. Thousands of messages bombard us every day telling that it’s all about us. Have it your way. You deserve a break today. Obey your thirst. Part of human nature is to glorify or worship ourselves rather than God.

    Have you ever heard of the Ten Commandments? What are they?

    We usually think first of don’t steal, kill, or lie. Those are important, but the first ones are most important.

    “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:3-11)

    1. No other Gods
    2. No idols
    3. Do not misuse the name of the LORD
    4. Take a Sabbath to the LORD your God

    These are not suggestions, but commands. These are more important than no adultery or coveting. The Ten Commandments begin with God. He wants to be LORD, King, Master.

    Why? Because He is insecure? He has an ego problem? He is arrogant? No, because He is God! He deserves it! As we sang earlier, He is the Creator of all things. He Created the game, He can set the rules! Even better, He initiated this thing we call life and humanity and the universe and He loves it! He wants it to thrive! He saved His best for last when it all began.

    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

    In 1647, a gathering of English and Scottish theological writers set out to summarize the Bible in order to train people in the faith. For hundreds of years it has been used in countless churches. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with a question:

    What is the chief end of man?

    Why am I here? What is my purpose? What meaning is there in life? The answer follows...

    Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

    I love this statement because it provides two responses. The first is that we were created to glorify God. That is the purpose of this series. That is why Scio exists. That is why you exist! It is to glorify, honor, bless, love, serve, obey, recognize, follow God.

    There is a real danger, though, in being told, “glorify God.”

    Kids, have you ever asked your parents “why?” only to be told, “Because I said so!”?

    The fifth commandment is to obey mom and dad, but sometimes we naturally want more incentive than “just do it.”

    In two weeks, we’re going to focus on the why of worship. Today I want to show you one simple thing about meaning and purpose in life: it’s about God.

    Not long ago I mentioned John Piper’s definition of a Christian hedonist:

    God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

    How can we be satisfied in God? It begins with meditating on who He is.

    I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Psalm 145:1-12)

    Going back to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we were created to glorify God...and to enjoy Him forever.

    The more we know Jesus Christ, the more we not only learn of the command to love Him, the more we want to love Him. The more we understand His love, His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, His hope, His joy, the more we naturally want to love Him, know Him, obey Him, and enjoy Him...forever!

    Piper adds

    We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonists want to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure—pleasure in him. By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God.

    We serve a truly awesome God. He spoke or possibly sang into existence the galaxies, the fish, the platypus, and humanity. The more we see how great God is, the more it puts into perspective our lives, our hopes, and our challenges.

    This week I was reminded of this yet again. We received one of those dreaded late-night phone calls that said that one of our children was being taken to the ER. Panic set in. Fear gripped. Our first tangible action was prayer, not simply because we wanted to fire off an SOS to God—though we did—but also to be reminded that God is good, He is faithful, He is trustworthy, He is all-powerful, He is the definition of love, He is sovereign and in control, He is all-knowing and wise, He is an ever-present help in times of trouble, He is great and mighty, ...and somehow what seems so difficult and overwhelming to us seems downright manageable to Him!

    A few days later I was meeting with a group of college students and one walked in, visibly stressed, and on the verge of despair. He said unless a miracle took place within a few hours, he would be unable to continue his education. His was a big deal! People were kindly giving advice, but it was obvious that no action on his part would solve the issue. We prayed, and a few hours later I received a phone call that a miracle had, indeed, occurred and that he would be able to stay in school.

    Sometimes God answers prayer in the manner in which we want, but not always. In the case of our child, we’re still uncertain as to the ultimate outcome. To be honest, I worry and fear, and then I am reminded that though those are natural temptations, it is in. Worry says I don’t trust that God is able. It often means I have forgotten Him or who He truly is, an awesome God who is worthy of praise and worship and glory—not because of what He does, but because of who He is. Circumstances don’t change God, nor do they change His worth.


    Our God is awesome. People use that word flippantly—that car is awesome, the Detroit Lions are awesome, that hamburger is awesome. I rarely use the word for anything but God. He awes me. He amazes me. His character and love and power and understanding and presence have no end. He is worth my time and talents and treasures. He deserves my devotion and love and obedience, just because of Who He is. The more I keep my eyes and ears and heart focused on Him, the more peace and joy and hope and purpose I inevitably experience as my attitude, priorities, and heart shift to the One who initiated it all...in the beginning. He is my pleasure. He is my treasure.

    You can listen to the podcast

    Worship (more), 4 December 2011

    Big Idea: one way to make this Christmas season different is to worship more.

    Welcome to
    Advent Conspiracy! We are in the most chaotic season of the year, businesses are doing whatever possible to lure us into their stores or onto their websites, credit cards are being used more than snow blowers in Alaska, and calendars are filled with parties and special events. So much for, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

    If you’re like me, you want this Christmas to be different. You want to remember the reason for the season. You want to focus on being present more than buying presents.

    Or maybe not!

    Black Friday sales were up nearly 7% over the previous year, a huge increase in the retail world. Stores that used to open at 5 of 6 AM opened at 3 AM, 2 AM, midnight, or even 10 PM on Thanksgiving Day. For many, Black Friday is a bigger holiday than Thanksgiving.

    What is wrong with this picture?

    How do we recalibrate our souls?

    Throughout this four-week series, we are going to focus on one word. Today’s word is worship. If we worship more, we are likely to gain a healthy perspective on Advent.

    When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, 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)

    The law—the Torah—required an ancient rite after the birth of a child. Joseph and Mary took their son to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the LORD. This was about six miles from their home in Bethelehem.

    According to Leviticus 12, they were to sacrifice a lamb and a pigeon or dove. They were obviously poor because if you were not able to afford a lamb and a pigeon, two pigeons or doves were acceptable (2 turtle doves!).

    All firstborns—people and animals—were to be dedicated to the LORD (v. 23; Ex. 13:2-13).

    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 upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:25-26)

    Simeon was promised by God that he would see the Messiah. He was an old man who waited his entire life for this moment.

    Advent is all about waiting. For generations, people were waiting for the coming of Jesus. We are waiting for His second coming.

    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 now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:27-32)

    What was Simeon’s response to encountering Jesus?

    He praised God! The Greek word is “eulogeo” which is where we get our word “eulogy.” It means to praise, give thanks, extol, bless, speak well of.

    Simeon worships!

    Others worshipped Jesus, too.

    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 in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

    They aren't Jews and yet they are more intent on finding the Messiah than any Jew (with the exception of Herod, who only wants to find him to kill him). Consider what they went through in their pursuit of the Messiah: a journey of maybe 1000 miles, or more, by camel that probably took months to complete. They asked people where to find him. They searched the Scriptures to learn about him. As a Christian, am I even willing to do that?

    Second (Matt 2:2), they wanted to find a king and not just any king and not for their own sakes because they were already wealthy (judging by the gifts) and not for social status (according to Daniel 2:48 they were among the highest ranking officials in Babylon. "Historians tell us that no Persian was ever able to become king without mastering the scientific and religious disciplines of the magi and then being approved and crowned by them, and that this group also largely controlled judicial appointments - cf Esther 1:13" - from
    MacArthur Commentary on Matthew). The magi were looking for a king to worship.

    Historical background on Herod.
    1. Herod was a great builder who rebuilt the temple and made it larger and more efficient.
    2. Herod was a ruthless leader who killed, through military might, to conquer the region of Judea.
    3. Herod was a wealthy king who lived a life of luxury.
    4. Herod was an insecure leader who killed his own family members when he felt his empire was threatened.

    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 Christ was to be born. “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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:3-6)

    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 make a careful search 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)

    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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 and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:9-12)

    They do meet the king, fall down to worship, offer their gifts, and then they disperse heeding God's call and likely taking the message with them back to their home country.  

    The most important thing about knowing Jesus, is Jesus.  Too often the message of Jesus is wrapped up in what He can do for us, but the magi weren't looking for that, the magi were looking for the Messiah so they could worship him because He is the King. You don't go to the king and say, "King, you are so great, can I have.../will you do something for me.../I need.../I want.../".  When you meet Jesus you don't ask him for things; you fall down and worship him. The magi were willing to risk months, travel hundreds of miles, ask questions, and diligently search to find the King. What am I willing to do?

    So what’s the big idea? Worship more!

    Everyone worships. We were made to worship. Some worship money, celebrities, or the person in the mirror. Even atheists worship. They give their attention, devotion, time, energy, and resources to those things that they value.

    The word “worship” actually means “worth-ship.” We worship things that we think are worthy.

    Worship is more than just singing songs. It’s a lifestyle.

    How do you spend your time? Your treasures? Show me your calendar and checkbook and I’ll show you what you value and worship.

    Obviously we are to worship God. Why? Because He told us too! Yes, but there’s so much more to worship.

    Why Worship?

    - reminds us that it’s not about us
    - puts things in perspective
    - reveals that God is in control

    How Should We Worship?

    - together
    - party (Leviticus 23)
    - give thanks
    - voice (e.g. singing)
    - time
    - money
    - obedience

    "It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular. Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful ‘in general.’ It’s a little like being married in general." -Cornelius Plantingua, Jr

    My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion. (Psalm 71:24)

    - how you love your spouse
    - pay attention to your friends
    - everything you say, do, think, feel!
    - how you act when things don’t go your way
    - giving money to help build wells to provide clean water

    Romans 12 tells us that everything is worship!


    - in good times
    - when you don’t feel like it!

    It’s often hard to worship when life is hard, but it’s often the most important thing for us to do. Not only does it declare our faith and allegiance, it reminds us that our God is greater than our current suffering.

    Praise You in the Storm by Casting Crowns

    Perry Noble has these thoughts about worship:

    #1 – Repentance - Where there is no repentance there may be an emotional experience, but it’s not worship!  Worship does not become worship until it IMPACTS the WAY WE LIVE!

    #2 – Intellectual – We’re called to worship the Lord with our minds by renewing it and fixing it on Him. (Colossians 3:1-2)

    #3 – Emotional- Worship is overwhelming when we realize how deeply we were entrenched in sin, how helpless we were and how incredible it is that Jesus would rescue us.  (The reality of Romans 5:8 BLOWS ME AWAY!)

    #4 – Intentional- No one accidentally follows Christ…if we are going to worship Him, it will be done purposefully!

    #5 – Relational – Worship impacts every relationship we have, it is impossible to be a fully devoted worshipper of Christ and be a jerk to your wife or try as often as possible to take advantage of the opposite sex.

    #6 – Financial – Until following Christ has impacted our finances in a sacrificial way we are not followers of Christ.  Would you like to see the primary object of your worship…look at your checkbook!

    #7 – Unconditional – (and NOT situational!)  Worship is consistent, 24/7, not just when I feel good or God is giving me all that I want.  If we worship only when things are good, we do not worship God…we worship a genie!

    What if this Christmas God invites us into a song that He has been playing since the foundations of the earth; recent findings indicate that sound waves shape the cosmos the way; one science journal said “the early universe rang with the sound of countless cosmic bells and those sound waves moved like ripples on the surface of a pond and that is how the planets and the stars are formed. And they’re still picking up echoes of those soundings today.“ God “spoke” (the ancient Hebrew sages say “sang”) the universe into existence.

    Everyone worships. We were made to worship. This Christmas, let’s worship more! Let’s seek the King as we prepare for His arrival…because Christmas begins and ends with Christ Jesus.

    Credits: special thanks to Cliff Richardson for research and input.

    You can listen to the podcast