"MAKING THE UNKNOWN KNOWN”

APRIL 8th, 2018                                                                                             PASTOR DON PIEPER

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In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      ACTS 17:10-17; 18-34

 

                                                “MAKING THE UNKNOWN KNOWN

 

            We return now to Paul's second mission trip as he and Silas share the Gospel in places like Paul's hometown of Tarsus, in Derbe, where Paul's friend, Gaius, is from, to Iconium and Lystra, where Phillip joins them, to Antioch of Asia Minor, and from there to Troas, where Luke joins them, and from there to Philippi, where they plant the first church in Europe, when Lydia and her family are baptized.

 

            Last we heard, they had planted yet another church on Greek soil in the city of Thessalonica, where “some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”   (Acts 17:4)  Unfortunately, many of the local Jewish leaders were jealous of their success and stirred up trouble, prompting these new believers to send Paul and Silas to Berea, where they planted yet another church among the Jews and Gentiles. 

 

            Having left Luke in Philippi, and Silas and Timothy in Berea, Paul heads to his next destination: ancient Athens.   Ahh Athens...  What an amazing city!  While there, we walked where Paul walked, visiting the Roman agora, a pagan temple, the famous Parthenon and, on the way, the Areopagus, Mars Hill...       Paul was sent by boat so he arrived in the Port of Faliro, the port that launched Meneleus & his 500 war ships bound for Troy, starring Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and Diane Kruger. Anyway, along the way “Paul was troubled by all the pagan idols he saw everywhere in the city.”   Hoping to connect with them he began “speaking daily in the Roman agora to all who happened to be there.”                                                                                                                                                     (Acts 17:16-17)   

            A center of philosophy and learning, Paul engages the Athenians in a discussion, a debate, not an antagonistic one, but as was the norm of the day, an exchange of ideas and varying perspectives.

 

            The Epicureans and Stoics were the dominant philosophers of the day.  The Epicureans believed that seeking happiness or pleasure was the primary goal of life.  The Stoics, on the other hand, placed thinking and reason above feeling and pleasure.  Paul's message about Jesus' resurrection prompted a mixed response. According to Plato, it made no sense for the soul to return to a discarded body. Such talk was babble! Some laughed, others wanted more info while still others came to believe. 

           

            Paul seeks to connect with the Greeks so he quotes their poets, notes their inclination to worship and dotes on how religious they are, quoting an inscription he read on an altar in town: “To An Un-known God.”  Such altars were erected so the Greeks & Romans could leave a sacrifice there, so they didn't anger a temperamental god inadvertently - to cover all their bases.  Paul then makes an incredible claim and offer.  He offers to make the unknown known and help the disconnected connect:  “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you!”   (Acts 17:23)

 

            We, too, are here to help the disconnect connect and make the unknown known.  So how do we do that?  Truth is paganism is very popular here too.  Others have experienced so much pain in their lives that their perspective has been compromised.   To be sure, it's not so easy!   It can be like trying to get someone to give up their comfy chair, their cozy hole, to go on an adventure...!

            [* film clip from ‘The Hobbit’; scene # 3, 13:35 – 15:40]                 (10:30 only)

                                                                       

Sadly many see the call to follow Christ as boring or as a bother, an uncomfortable inconven-ience and miss out on this wild adventure...!  So how do we change that? How do we connect...?  In his letters to the Christians in Corinth Paul laid out his approach to doing just that...:

                                                                        -2- 

 

“Though I am free..., I make myself a servant to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jew I talk as does a Jew.  To the Greek, I speak like a Greek; to the weak I become weak, to win the weak.  I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring some to Christ.” 

                                                                                                                        (1 Corinthians 9:22)

            Nowhere is his approach more evident than in Athens.  Here, Paul models four key steps to wit-nessing to those around us. First, listen and observe.  In order to speak like a Greek, Paul pays attention to what those around him are talking about, what's important to them.  He noted their idols, talked with people in the market place, had conversations with their teachers and thinkers, even read their poetry... 

 

            This step is far too often skipped by those of us eager to share our faith.  We're too quick to talk and too slow to listen, but everyone has a need to be heard....

Chuck:             I've come to you because lately I've.... been....trying to...

Lucy:               Wait a minute.  Before you begin, I must ask that you pay in advance.  Five cents please.    

Lucy:               (PLINK!) Boy!  What a sound!  How I love to hear that ol money plink!  The beautiful             sound of cold, hard cash!  That beautiful, beautiful sound!  Plink! Plink...!  What a beautiful             sound! So, you have a problem?  Well, you've come to the right place!  ...I need the money!

                                                                                                (The Parables of Peanuts, p. 309/180)

 

            Listening and asking good questions does two things.  One, it provides an opportunity to better understand what the other person's world view is. Two, it expresses our interest in that person, that we truly care about them.  As an Alpha guest once said, “This is the first time anyone really listened!”

 

            So first, Paul listened and observed.  Second, he affirmed and confirmed.  This is what he was doing when he made the statement, “People of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines.”  (Acts 17:22-23)

            Here he shows that he's interested in what they're interested in, what their beliefs are, what their priorities are, and then celebrates what is noteworthy and what he and they have in common... 

                                                                                   

            He affirms them, commending them for their belief that this isn’t all there is to life, that there's a greater power at work in the world.  Paul celebrates their inclination to worship which is what we all do when we marvel at a sunset,delight in a newborn baby, acknowledge our blessings as gifts from God.   Paul affirms them and then offers an observation:  “You have been worshipping him without knowing who he is.” (Acts 17:23)  That's his third approach: He draws their attention to God's existence and goodness.   He's making the unknown known: the very character of God.

 

            He begins by pointing to the wonders of the universe as evidence of God's goodness.  Then he quotes from Greek literature to confirm his genuine interest in what interests them, pointing out that we're all created on purpose for a purpose:“His plan in all of this was that all people should seek after God and feel their way toward him, and find him – though he's not far from any one of us.”                                                                                                                                                                   (Acts 17:27) 

            It's like the Dad who played hide n seek with his kids.  When it was his turn to hide he'd whistle funny tunes.  One of his kids asked, 'Why...daddy?'  Because I love it....when it when you find me!

                                                                                   

            Having established our common purpose Paul goes on to establish our common need: “God has set a day for judging the world”  Instinctively we know that. The brokenness of this world cries out for justice!  Come to think of it, we all have a lot to answer for...!   We've all acted selfishly, hurt others. We're all in a bit of a pickle and in need of a good, cosmic lawyer, or better yet, a sympathetic judge.

                                                                                    -3-

 

            And that’s the good news:“God has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he's appointed and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”              (Acts 17:31)   

 

            Clearly, it's in one’s best interest to get to know 'the man'.  And that's the point.  This is Paul's 4th step: he makes a connection to Jesus' resurrection the turning point of history, and our story! “Our goal then is to help others connect w/the man by building relationships, and by listening for the Spirit’s nudges as to when and where and how to share the greatest story of all!”  (Bill Hybels)

           

            Jesus is the same today as he was when Paul told the Greeks about him on Mars Hill. So it’s not the message that needs to change so much as it is our approach. When Paul spoke to his fellow Jews he was able to reason with them from the Scriptures but when Paul spoke to the people of Athens on Mars Hill, his approach was different.   He still spoke of Jesus and the resurrection but his starting point and approach varied.   It was not so much a sermon as it was a discussion: “Some said, ‘We want to hear more about this later.’  That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers.  Among them were Dionysius,…and a woman named Demaris…”  (Acts 17:32b-34)

 

            I know someone who had a conversation with a young woman who was heavily into witchcraft – a conversation that led to her checking out a local church web site.  Her curiosity aroused she began to attend services after getting off of work at the Wicca store in town. That initial conversation led to further discussions on good and evil, something that she was both interested in and troubled by.  As her friend came along side of her, listening as well as sharing, she came to see Jesus as her liberator as he set her free from the dark thoughts and inner lies that plagued her by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

           

            I love how Acts 17 ends with Luke identifying by name a couple of those first Greek believers, reflecting that this is about getting to know people whose names and stories matter!  As Paul indicates, God’s heart is that we all see ourselves as seekers.  So we don’t go out to convince people where they are wrong and we are right, to confront people as God’s arbitrators but rather as His collaborators!  We look for clues about where God is already at work, ready for his nudge to do our part!  

 

            So it was with Paul.  In the midst of a spiritually confused and prideful environment he found an altar to an unknown God and saw there a clue that God was on the case. He saw the means to connect.  It brings to mind a scene in which one furry-footed adventurer helps another make a connection...  

                        [film clip from “The Two Towers”; 2:44:55 – 2:46:50]

 

            Sam captures his friend’s heart with a message of hope, encouraging him to embrace his part in the ongoing story of the triumph of goodness over evil and life over death.  Sam understands that our daily lives are part of a larger story that has meaning & purpose and we can each be part of that larger story. Like him we are called to connect with those around us and help them connect their story with God’s story of ultimate victory over the darkness in our world and in our own soul. 

 

            First, listen to their story; second, affirm them; third, confirm God's existence and goodness; and fourth, make a connection to Jesus' resurrection.   As Paul put it...:

 

            “God did all this so that men would seek him...and find him, though he is not far from each one of us!  God has proved to everyone who his (anointed one...) is by raising him from the dead.”   So we seek after God our selves and encourage others, inviting them to join us on this great adventure, this cosmic love story as Christ leads us in this adventure of the Holy Spirit!   (Acts 17:27, 31)

"HOW DO YOU KNOW?"

APRIL 1", 2018                                                          PASTOR DON PIEPER

EASTER SUNDAY                                                               ISAIAH 25:1, 6-9 In Paul's Footprints                                                Mark 16:1-7/1 Cor 15:1-11

"HOW DO YOU KNOW?"

There are some who find it ironic, that Easter falls on April Fool's Day this year...

Man:              APRIL FOOLS!!!                   (cartoon quip)

In Jesus' case, that's no April Fools! As Paul wrote in the opening chapter to the letter we just read from: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom..."

(1 Corinthians 1:18, 25)

That makes us fools for Christ... That doesn't mean our faith is mere wishful thinking tho'. Our faith is built on the solid ground of sound empirical evidence as cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians: "Christ died for our sins, was buried & was raised from the dead on the third day just as the Scriptures said"

(1 Corinthins 15:3-4)

The evidence comes to us in two primary ways - one, through the fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecy, and two, in the form of personal experience passed on through eye-witness accounts.

The evidence of biblical prophecy, was the focus of the message two weeks ago. You can check that out online or by picking up a copy in the back. Scores of messianic prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus... Paul confirms the importance of this evidence when he writes: "Christ died for our sins...and he was raised on the third day !according to the scriptures]." (1 Corinthians 15:4)

And then there's the evidence of personal experience. Hobbes helps out...

{cfit's A Magical World, top of page 83] - The evidence of personal experience!

Back to the text...! Hidden deep in Paul's Corinthian letters there is buried treasure - the earliest testimony in the Bible of the resurrection of Jesus. Our reading from Mark is the first Gospel account, written around 60 AD, but these words from Paul even precede those of Mark's.

Paul initially visited Corinth during his second missionary trip around the year 51 AD, staying there about 18 months, and, "Many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized"

(Acts 18:8)

Later, while in Ephesus, during his third missionary trip, about three or four years later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians around the year 55 AD, meaning that these words were written a mere 18 years after Jesus' resurrection, and between five to ten years before Mark was written.

Paul's words, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance..." (1 Cor. 15:3) are of great significance indeed! It reveals that what follows has been passed on to him in the form of an early Christian creed, the earliest Christian confession of faith on record.

In this creed, Paul refers to six distinct resurrection appearances. First is Peter, or in the original Greek, Cephas. Luke refers to it amidst other resurrection appearances, occurring in between Jesus appearing to Mary on Easter morning and to the two disciples leaving for Emmaus later that day. "They returned to Jerusalem at once. There they found the Eleven... who confirmed their report, saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon (Peter)." (Luke 24:33-34)

The use of the Aramaic name, Cephas, in Paul's creed is indication that Paul, who always wrote in Greek, copied a creed used in the spoken language of Jesus and first century Israel - Aramaic.

 

-2-

"(Jesus) appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve..." (1 Corinthians 15:5) Paul refers to The Twelve, even though Judas was now dead, confirming that Paul is quoting a secondary source. This appearance is validated by three of the four gospels — Matthew, Luke and John.

"After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, (Paul writes), most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep." (1 Cor. 15:6)

This one is not mentioned in the gospels and is perhaps the most daring evidence presented by Paul. It's an invitation for any first century critic to confirm his report for themselves, talking to any of these five hundred individuals to verify the resurrection claim to their own satisfaction as most of the 500 were still living... Paul's saying, 'if you don't believe me or the Twelve, ask your neighbors!'

"Jesus then appeared to James." (1 Corinthians 15:7) This James is obviously not one of the original twelve disciples because he's already mentioned them. The original twelve included James, the brother of John, and James, the son of Alphaeus. That leaves one other James of notiriety, James, the brother of Jesus. The gospels report that Jesus had four half-brothers. "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?"

(Matthew 13:55/Mark 6:3)

The gospels also report that during Jesus' ministry, his brothers didn't believe in him: "For even his own brothers did not believe in him." (John 7:5) "They said; 'He's out of his mind! "(Mark 3:21) Yet, after the resurection, James became a leader in the early church. Paul identifies him as one of only two men he met with during his 37 AD trip to Jerusalem: "Three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter... The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord's brother." (Gal 1:19)

So within four years of the resurrection James had not only become a believer but a recognized leader in the early church. He's also named by a non-biblical source — the historian, Josephus: "They brought before the Sanhedrin the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and

some others, and delivered them to be stoned"        (Josephus)

This citation not only confirms James as the brother of Jesus but also that he was martyred for his faith by stoning around the year 57 AD. It makes one wonder what would have converted James, who certainly knew about Jesus' teachings and miracles during his lifetime but did not believe? What's more, that he went from referring to Jesus as a madman during his life to be willing to die for his belief that Jesus was the resurrected son of God, is profound evidence that Jesus appeared to him alive...!

Next Paul refers to still other "apostles", a word that means sent out ones: "Then he appeared to all the apostles." (15:7) Since he's already mentioned the 12, 'all the apostles' must refer to all of those who'd also been sent out to spread the gospels, like Barnabas, Silas and others — All the others...!

Finally, Paul mentions himself: "And last of all he appeared to me also," (1 Corinthians 15:8) which took place a year after Jesus' resurrection. As noted, his earliest letter in the New Testament, Galatians, reveals that Paul went to Jerusalem just three years after he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, and met with Peter and James, the most likeliest time that this creed was passed on to him.

So Paul obtained this creed just four years after the resurrection! It was virtually hot off the press! All that to say, that Paul's Corinthian creed provides profound validation of Jesus' resurrection! It was on such evidence that the early Christians had taken a stand for Jesus. They placed their hope and trust in him, been baptized in his name, and were following the lead of his living Spirit!

 

-3-

Countless others have done the same. As Martin Luther would famously put it: 'Unless you can prove to me based on Scripture where I have erred, I will not recant. Here I stand I can do no other!'

(Martin Luther)

I think of the students at Columbine High School, who when confronted by gun-wielding class­mates refused to back done and also took a stand for Christ. On Wednesday of this week US Today ran an article with the headline, "Kidnapped girl refuses to convert to Islam". The girl is Leah Sharibu, one of 110 girls kidnapped from their school by the Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Her mom told a reporter: 'They told her they would release her if she converted, but she said she will never become a Muslim. I'm very sad but also overjoyed because she did not denounce Christ.'

(3/28/18 issue of US Today)

Paul's words are as timely today as they were when he wrote them. "I remind you of the gospel ...on which you have taken your stand!" (1 Cor 15:1) Most of us do not face the threat of violence but we are faced daily with the temptation to compromise our faith. Students are constantly confronted in our high schools and universities, as conveyed in the film, God's Not Dead..

[DVD clip from the film, God's Not Dead: 11:41 — 14:26; and 49:30 — 50:30]

Paul provides rock solid evidence that God's not dead, that Jesus' rose from the dead fulfilling ancient prophecies and validating the experiences of countless eye-witnesses. On this solid ground we can confidently take a stand and hold firmly to it, no matter what life might throw at us! As Paul notes: "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to (it)..." (1 Cor. 15:2)

Further, he notes that he passed on to us what was passed on to him. "I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me, that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said..!"

(1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

You're here because someone along the way passed it on to you. Nothing is more vital than letting the risen one rule your heart, giving you courage to take a stand, to hold on firmly and to pass it on so that others may share in the wealth of Christ, for he was raised from the dead, just as the Scrip­tures said! He was seen by (Mary), by Peter and then by the Twelve After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, then by James, and later by all the apostles, (including Paul)."

(1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

And he's still appearing to people through the presence of the Holy Spirit, his Spirit, who he sends to those who open their hearts to him and pursue him. God's not dead, he's very much alive! Jesus lives and breathes among and within those who will have him — those like Nick Taylor, who left us this week to be part of Christ's church triumphant. Nick inspired us by his courage, his passion for Jesus, his willingness to take a stand at the mill, at the store, with his family & friends, holding firmly to the gospel he embraced when Jesus filled him with his Spirit at an Alpha retreat years ago, revealing to Nick that God's not dead! Jesus did die, but he rose again and lives among/within us by his Spirit!

Nick would want me to remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message of Jesus' death and resurrection! He lives! Jesus is risen...!

“THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE”

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MARCH 21st, 2018                                                                                        PASTOR DON PIEPER

JOB 19:23-27                                                                                                             JOHN 5:18-29a

The Great I AM                                                                                             JOHN 11:17-27, 22-45

 

                                                “THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

 

                Friend after friend had stepped forward, hugged Martha and said “Your brother will rise again”.  She had probably lost track of the number of times she heard it as she stood near the tomb of her brother, Lazarus.  And now Jesus knelt beside her and said the same thing “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23).

 

                Choking back a sob, she replies, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24),  but that would be a long way off.   She misses him now!   Then Jesus makes an astounding statement: I am the resurrection and the life.   Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying”.  (John 11:25)

 

                What did Jesus mean by that?  Lazarus was not the first person Jesus raised from the dead.  Mark records the raising of Jairus’ daughter in his gospel, (Mark. 5:22-43), and Luke the raising of a widow's son in his gospel.  (Luke 7)   So why didn't Jesus say, “I have the power of the resurrection – to raise Lazarus from the dead”?

 

                What does he mean, I Am the resurrection and the life?  It is the seventh time Jesus has identified himself by using the words God identified himself to Moses with – I AM – only this time, he proves it by showing himself to be the one who not only brings but embodies resurrection power.  By doing so, he makes it clear, he is one with the Father – that he is God in the flesh.  His adverasaries caught the implication.  It is this miracle, his last recorded in John, that prompts the religious leaders to take immediate action to end his life.  When they heard about it, they said to each other, “What are we going to do?  If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him.”  So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus' death.”  (John 11:47-48, 53)  It's Jesus' raising of Lazarus more than any other thing that he says or does that triggers the plotting and scheming of his enemies to seek Jesus' death, even if it means doing so illegally.

 

                Make no mistake, the raising of Lazarus from the dead had a major shock factor.  For one thing, the city was packed with travelers heading to Jerusalem for Passover.  Bethany was along a major route.  Thousands were directly impacted by it!  For another thing, bodies were not embalmed in hot, arid Palestine.  The Jews had no means to slow down the decay of a body.  The best they could do was to wrap up the body in cloth, sprinkle some spices on it to mitigate the odor a little and seal it up in a cave or tomb.   As rigamorties set in, dead human tissue releases hydrogen sulfide and methane as well as other putrid gases.  A horrible smell is emitted as Martha is quick to point out: “Lord, he has been dead for four days.  The smell will be terrible!”  (John 11:39)  Everyone there nods and murmurs in agreement. 

 

                We may well know the pain of loss but most of us have seldom if ever experienced much of death's nastiness.  As soon as someone dies, their body is quickly removed and is not seen again until it's been embalmed  and perfumed.  Not only that but to further distance ourselves from the reality of death we have come up with all kinds of ways of speaking of death without ever saying the word, dead.  The comedy, Greater Tuna, made fun of this in a scene in the play. 

 

 

                                                                                                                -2-

Pearl:                      Stanley, he's gone! 

Stanley:                   Who is?

Pearl:                      The judge – he's out like a light. 

Stanley:                   He's down for the count. 

Pearl:                      He's crossed that distant shore.

Stanley:                   He's passed on - shipped out.

Pearl:                      He's expired!

Stanley:                   He's checked out!

Pearl:                      Flown the coop!

Stanley:                   Stiff as a board. 

Pearl:                      He's kicked the bucket!

Stanley:                   Cashed in his chips!

Pearl:                      He's deceased...

Stanley:                   Defunct...

Pearl:                      Departed...

Stanley:                   Demised...

Pearl:                      He's pushing up daises, Stanley...

Stanley:                   He bit the dust, raking the radishes, sleeping with the fishes!

Pearl:                      It's curtains – his number was up, he's a memory, forget him!

Stanley:                   Heck, Pearl,  I don't even remember what he looked like! 

Both:                       (sigh...)    Ahhhh....

 

                That was Judge Buckney – and that was Lazarus!  He'd & shipped out four days ago.  But one person present hasn't come to meerly pay his respects; he's come to resurrect the dead, because that's who he is – the resurection...! 

 

                I read recently of a muslim in Africa who became a Christian and some of his friends asked him why.  His response was noteworthy.  He said, “Well, it's like this: suppose you were going down a road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn’t know which way to go.   And suppose you met two men at the fork – one dead and one who used to be dead.    Which one would you ask to show you the way?  ….Exactly!”

 

                Jesus said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”   And then he went on to say: “Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dyiing.  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never die.”  (John 11:25-26)

 

                Jesus offers us life for He is the source of life.  John made that crystal clear in the opening to his gospel.  “In the beginning was the Word.  The Word was with God and the Word was God.   The Word gave life to everything that was created and his life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness...   And the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of God's unfailing love and grace.”   (John 1:1, 4-5, 14)   That’s the point.

                                                                                                               

                From the beginning, Jesus has been the very source of life.  And he gives life, life from death even, in the Spirit of love and grace - because that's who he is.  He is the resurrection and the life. 

                                                                                                                -3-

                Jesus said something very similar after healing a cripple: “For just as the Father gives life to those He raises from the dead, even so the Son gives life to anyone he wants.  I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life..., for they have already passed from death into life.” 

                                                                                                                                                                                (John 5:21-24)  

                The Resurrection is not just a historical event!  Because He is risen, and still alive, we're able to have a relationship with Him.    Because He is risen, He is able to touch our lives.

                In forensic science, there is a rule known as the Lockyear principle that simply stated says that “every touch leaves an impression”.  Some of us here can vouch for the fact that when our lives have been touched by the Risen Lord, it has left an impression on our lives.   My first Alpha retreat was such an experience...!  His presence left a lasting impression. 

 

                I read of inmate who was in prison for armed robbery, who, upon rededicating his life to Jesus, found that it left an impression on his life.   Even the guards noticed a difference, so much so that he was allowed into the special section 23 wing as a chapel orderly – something extremely rare.  One day, God told him to confess to the other crimes he'd committed, some of which were quite serious.  So he did as God had told him, even though he was potentially looking at quite a long additional sentence.   Once he had finished giving the statement to the police, the policeman took the statement to his inspector to discuss what to do.   To everyone’s surprise, the inspector decided not to charge him for the additional crimes, and merely had them put on his record.

 

                So when the inmate left prison a year later, he was a free man with no fear that the crimes he'd committed would ever come back to haunt him.  He went on to get a B.A. in Theology at Bible College – despite being dyslexic and having a criminal record.   Talk about Jesus giving someone a new life!   When Jesus said to Martha “ I am the Resurrection and the Life” – it wasn’t just a “nice little theological exercise”.   Jesus was presenting her with a challenge.

 

            Do you believe me, Martha?” Jesus asked.   (John 11:26)   Are you willing to bet your life on me?

                I think it is significant how the resurrection of Lazarus took place.  In spite of their fears and reservations, especially in light of the nastiness, the smell, and the messiness of death, Jesus invited his followers to participate.  Twice he invited them to take an active role in Lazarus coming alive again.  “'Roll the stone aside,' Jesus told them.”  (John 11:39)

 

                When Martha complains about the smell and nastiness and the messiness, Jesus responds, “'Didn't I tell you that you would see God's glory if you believe?'  So they rolled the stone aside.”   They were resurrection rookies, but they joined in all the same.  And the barrier between life and death was removed. 

                “Then Jesus shouted, 'Lazarus, come out!'  And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth.  And so Jesus told them, 'Unbind him and let him go!'”  (11:43-44)

 

                And that's what they did.  And that's what we're called to do.  Jesus is the resurrection and we are his followers, helping other to be unbound and let go!   “For I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it's here now, when the dead will hear (his) voice – the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen...will live!  So don't be surprised! The time has come when all the dead in their graves will hear (his) voice and they will rise again!”  (John 11:25-29a) 

                You can bet your life on it! 

"THESSALONIAN THISTLES"

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MARCH 18th, 2018                                                                                       PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      1 Thess 2:1-13/Acts 17:1-12

 

                                                “THESSALONIAN THISTLES”    

 

            The last two weeks we've spent in ancient Philippi, where the first church in Europe was born thru the refreshing waters of baptism and by the power of the Holy Spirit!  Perhaps you know someone you'd like to see baptized.   I know Calvin wanted to see his mom baptized...:

 

Calvin:            SPLOOSH!  Aaaa!  No!  Wait!  Think about it!  Wasn't that refreshing?? 

                        I need to work on my salesmanship.                                       {….Jungle Cat p. 157}

 

            How refreshing!  Calvin, in time out.  Anyway, after setting a slave girl free of the demon that afflicted her, her owners send Paul and Silas to time out – out in the Philippian jail.  After baptizing their jailor and his family and being set free the following day, they stop by Lydia's to encourage her and the other believers meeting in her home, before high-tailing it out of town. It seems whereever Paul goes, he winds up getting booted out of town.  Paul's thinking: 'I need to work on my salesmanship!'

 

            He was kicked out of Antioch, threatened in Iconium, nearly stoned to death in Lystra, beaten and inprisoned in Philippi and barely escapes further injury when he blazes a trail out of Thessalonica and Beroea, fulfilling in short order the prophetic word Jesus spoke over him prior to his own baptism: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”           (Acts 9:16)

                                                                                                                                               

            Ironically, all that opposition has only helped spread the gospel faster, as Paul is forced to flee from town to town.  Nothing's wasted!  What Satan meant to interfere God uses to further the gospel!

 

            It's the year 49 A.D., and having left Luke behind to disciple the church in Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy head out on the Via Egnatia, the Roman highway connecting Rome with Greece, Asia and modern day Turkey, to their next destination, by way of Amphipolis and Appollonia. 

 

            Amphipolis was one of four regional capitals in Macedonia and was the location from which Alexander the Great had embarked in his great conquest of the ancient world. 

            Appollonia was named in honor of the Greek God Appollo, for whom a huge temple graced the city's forum, near which would also be erected the Bema, a marble platform in honor of Paul himself. 

 

            That's a bit ironic since Paul and company were just passing thru, traveling over 100 miles in route to the synagogue in the largest city in Macedonia, Thessalonica, a city numbering some 200,000 plus residents.  Founded in 315 BC in honor of Thesaloniki, the sister of Alexander the Great, the port city was one of the wealthiest, most influential cities in all of Macedonia, and home to the Roman pro-consul, making it the center of the Roman government in the country.  It was one of our stops during our sabbatical last year.  Among other sites, we enjoyed the ruins of the Roman forum where Paul no doubt shopped and ate.   I wonder if he ate where we did – a little roadside cafe called..., Zorba's...

            [DVD clip from the film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding; 55:43 – 57:40]

 

            Paul set up shop making tents here as his letter he later wrote suggests: “Remember how hard we worked among you?  Night and day we toiled to earn a living so we wouldn't be a burden to you.”

                                                                                                                        (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

            This comment reveals that Paul lived and worked in Thessalonica for some time, contrary to the assumption that since he preached on three consecutive sabbaths his stay was no longer than 4 weeks. 

                                                                                    -2- 

 

            A careful read of his first letter to the church tho' reveals a highly developed doctine requiring far more than a month to teach.  Also, a reference at the end of his letter to the church in Philippi cele-brates the fact that the church in Philippi sent its impoverished apostle financial aid numerous times: “When I was in Thessalonica you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”  (Phil 4:16)

 

            This reveals two things.  One, as noted, Paul spent a significant amount of time in Thessalonica – probably several months. Two, it highlights Luke's concise & purposeful narrative style.  It appears Luke is suggesting Paul was only there...for four weeks but Luke's merely being concise.  His purpose was to show people's initial response to Paul's preaching and the reason for his leaving.  

           

            So what was the response to Paul's preaching in Thessalonica?  Not bad actually – the best so far...! “Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”                  (Acts 17:4)

           

            Here's what we can take from this.  First, Luke is saying that as a result of Paul's preaching in the synagogue, the second church in Macedonia was born.  Some were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas.  That is, they started gathering together, to learn more..., just like the believers did in Philippi.

 

            Second, Luke is noting a contrast in numbers here: Some of the Jews...joined in contrast to many Greek men.   So, from the very start, even though Paul is preaching in the Jewish synagogue, the number of Gentiles, or non-Jews, in the church outnumber those of Jewish background.  Paul affirms this in his letter as well, when he writes: “And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia..., for wherever we go people tell us about your faith in God...and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God...!”

                                                                                                                        (1 Thessalonians 1:8-9)

            Jews don't worship idols; pagans do!  Paul's reference here reveals that the majority of the be-lievers in the Thessalonian church were not Jews but former Greek pagans. Now, it was not uncommon for there to be curious Gentiles attending a local synagogue but Luke's statement about many Godfear-ing Greek men and quite a few prominent women suggests that someone's been doing a lot of inviting!            Luke's contrasting numbers hint at a strategy of outreach – that Paul, Silas and Timothy were using Paul's tent-making business as a front to witness to the Gentiles in the city and to invite them to hear them preach in the synagogue!  Many of you have done the same – Tim, Josh, Amy...   (QFC)

 

            Luke is so concise that we miss some crucial details, such as how did all these prominent ladies come to faith when only men were allowed in the synagogue?  Luke says there were quite a few!   Did they, like Lydia, wind up playing leading roles in this new church?   What is Luke not telling us?   

                                                                                   

            The letters these three guys wrote reveal a deep connection and love they shared with this amaz-ing church full of men and women, Greeks and Jews, a church so vibrant that wherever Paul and company traveled people were talking about their love and faith and fearless witness!

 

            Of course not everyone in Thessalonica was excited about what was happening.  Some of them were jealous.  Some were self-righteous.  They were like Thessalonian thistles.  They didn't need some outsiders explaining God's Word to them.   They were men of action and few words!

 

Calvin:            I'm a man of few words.                                                         

Hobbes:           Maybe if you read more, you'd have a larger vocabulary....   !   

                                                                                    -3-

 

            Some didn't get it – but many did!  Something radical happened during those first three sabbaths - something set this community of new believers ablaze! I believe it was the Holy Spirit moving among them, creating a collective and progressive aha experience.  Listen again to Luke's concise description of the message Paul proclamed there: “As was Paul's custom...he used the Scriptures to reason with the people.  He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.  He said, 'This Jesus I'm telling you about is the Messiah.'”             (Acts 17:2-3)

                                                                                                                                               

            Paul's strategy, was to engage his listeners on familiar ground, so when speaking in the syna-gogues, he read from the Scriptures.  The gospels hadn't been written yet so when Luke says, Paul used the Scriptures to reason with the people, he was referring to passages from the Old Testament and, specifically, prophetic passages that spoke of the Messiah.

 

            There happens to be hundreds of them.  They're like jigsaw pieces in a puzzle box.  Individually they don't mean much to most but collectively a picture begins to form.  Some of these prophecies talk about his family tree, others about the details of his birth, others about the kinds of things this messiah would do, would be known for, and still others about the circumstances and purpose of his death. 

            Here's a list of 33 out of hundreds of such messianic prophecies...

                        [chart from Prepared To Answer, p. 221]   

 

            As Paul quoted these prophecies he told Jesus' story, pointing out over and over and over again how the details of Jesus' life, ministry, death & resurrection had all been prophesied hundreds of years in advance.  This meant that everyone who hears this good news, including you, is incredibly fortunate to live in an age where the prophetic puzzle pieces of old finally fit together,forming a picture, a picture of a man....whose name is Jesus!  The odds of one man fulfilling them all is so astronomically low it's like finding a piece of rice in the desert – and yet one man has fulfilled them...!   (cf. Chart above) 

 

            One of the most profound prophecies Paul would have explained would've been the one found in Psalm 22.   [chart from Prepared To Answer, p. 226]  Here David describes things he'd neither witnessed nor experienced, particularly that of a messianic figure who is mocked with the very words said by Jesus' adversaries beneath the cross, of his clothes being divided as spoils of war by people casting lots, as the Roman soldiers did for Jesus' tunic, or most remarkably of David's description of crucifixion, of hands and feet pierced by nails, hundreds of years before the Romans introduced it...

 

            Jesus not only suffered all these things, Paul said, but he died only to rise from the dead three days later to show that he was no mere man – but the hope of the world, the means by which suffering and death could be overcome by anyone and everyone....who placed their lives in Jesus'  hands!

 

            When Paul and Silas shared this message later in Berea, Luke records that the people “listened eagerly to Paul's message, searching the Scriptures day afer day to see if Paul and Silas were telling the truth.”   (Acts 17:11)  As a result, they became convinced – Jesus solves the puzzle and he's alive! 

 

            In the same way, we are called to be in the word, to search the Scriptures day after day to dis-cover the truth they convey, that God may speak to you, that you matter that much, that your hope lies not in trying harder, but in our coming to know and trust in Jesus, who lives among us today by the power and presence of his Holy Spirit!  Be like a Berean and get together with others to search the Scriptures! Learn from Paul to witness at work and to use scripture to solve the mystery of the messiah!

            Jesus solves the puzzle and he's alive!

“THE TRUE VINE”

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MARCH 14th, 2018                                                                                       PASTOR DON PIEPER

Psalm 8:7-11,14-19                                                                                        ISAIAH 5:1-5, 7a     

The Great I AM                                                                                            JOHN 15:1-17

 

                                                            “THE TRUE VINE

 

            As the evening ended, Jesus’ tone abruptly changed.  His demeanor has shifted.  He's quoted the prophet, Isaiah, who spoke of a people with amnesia.  He's washed his friends’ feet as their servant Messiah.  He's predicted his death and said he'd be denied, betrayed and abandoned....by his friends.

 

            The mood is somber; the air is tense.  They leave singing. They’ll return in silence.  It’s a walk in the dark, but no mere walk in the park.  To follow him now would lead to Calvary.  And so, as they head to the Mount of Olives, he offers this final teaching, of the Gardner, the one true vine and those he sends branching.  “I am the Vine and you are the branches…” (John 15:5)

 

            Life has a way of taking some unexpected turns. At times I wonder why things are the way they are, baffled by a God unseen and mysterious, frustrated that God’s sense of timing doesn’t match mine.

 

            But if I lean in close, I can make out Jesus’ final words of instruction, and catch anew his Spirit-filled vision.  Here, on the way to the Garden he reminds us why we are here: “I am the Vine and you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit...  You didn’t choose me, I chose you.  I appointed you to go and produce much fruit – fruit that will last…”                                                                                                                                           (John 15:5, 16)

            Why are we here?   We're here because we've been chosen – hand-picked, as it were, to bear fruit – a lot of fruit, lasting fruit!  The question is, what is this fruit and how can we produce it? 

 

            Scripture clearly points to two kinds of fruit: inner fruit and outward fruit.  You bear inner fruit as the Holy Spirit cultivates in you a Christ-like character: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22)

 

            You bear outward fruit when you allow God to work through you to bring Him glory.  Encour-aging others, helping those in need, forgiving those who've hurt you, loving on those no one else will, and witnessing in word and deed to those outside the community of faith of the love and grace of God – it all produces fruit.  Such fruit lasts because it has a way of inspiring others to do likewise.

 

            It brings to mind a commercial that came out a couple of years ago, *of a woman on a city street who saves a man from being hit by a car........., (who in turn helps another, who helps another...)   

            [* start Youtube video - Liberty Mutual Commercial – “A Helping Hand Is Contagious”]

 

            Here’s the thing: Jesus isn’t about making your dreams come true.  Our dreams are always too small.  We're here to fulfill God’s dream, which Jesus, in his final instructions, put so eloquently – “My true disciples produce much fruit.  This brings great glory to my Father.” (John 15:8We bring God glory by investing in his kingdom – in the lives of those around us – one cluster at a time! 

 

            The voices out there say that everything is relative, but Jesus, on the other hand, says that every-thing is relational.   He speaks of how God is relational, that as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, (all of whom Jesus speaks of in John 15), God is invested in loving, nurturing relationships in His very being. 

 

 

                                                                                    -2-

 

            Further, Jesus speaks of how God the Father is like a gardener, tending to his vineyard, the ancient image of the people of God, as we saw from PS 80/Isaiah 5.  So it is that Jesus speaks of prun-ing and watering, where Jesus serves as the Vine nurturing us, his branches vibrant with the sap of the Holy Spirit all for one, common purpose, of producing not just some fruit, but an abundance of fruit.

 

            The world says everything is relative.  Jesus says no, everything is relational.  We strive for control, independence, to be the master of our own destiny. Jesus says, no, you are all dependent on me as interdependent branches on a vine.  “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  For apart from me you can do nothing.”                                                                                                                                                       (John 15:5)

            Jesus sees in you a work in progress.  He sees in you a potential yet untapped.  He sees a vine-yard of hurting hearts, who tend to get the horse before the cart, the crop before the dirt.  He sees in you a work in progress.   To bring his vision to life, to help us progress to perfection, he offers us what Pastor John Thomason calls, “Perichoretic Power”!   More on that in a moment. 

 

            Jesus offers two main ways we can live lives rich with meaning and purpose.  First, be positive about his pruning.   John 15 provides us with the best good news we'd rather not hear.  That is, God disciplines those who produce no fruit and prunes those who do.  That doesn't mean all hardship, or even most hardship, is God's handiwork as the book of Job reveals but whether he's behind it or not God is always looking to make use of it to awaken those branches that are dead and bare.

 

            Jesus points to a gardener who carefully, lovingly prunes what is in his care.  We seem to be born with the misconception that we are in control of our lives. Note a baby’s first 4 words: No!  Mine!  Gimme!  Mommy!   This assumption, that we know better, is in conflict with the life of faith.  That’s why, very early in your pruning, God’ll ask you to give up your ‘right’ to know why certain things happen.  In fact, in the chapter immediately preceding this one, Peter was distressed to hear Jesus speak of leaving and asked, “Why, Lord?  Where are you going and why can't I come?”

 

            To which Jesus said, “Don't let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.”

                                                                                                                                    (John 13:36-7;14:1)

            At such times Jesus urges us to simply hold on tight to those arms that will never let us go.  In pruning, how you respond makes all the difference.  You can complain, fume or run away - or you can experience the comfort and peace that comes to disciples who keep their eyes on the prize, not the pain.

 

            Second, to reach our potential Jesus urges us to “abide”, or to “remain”, in him.   He urges us to stay closely connected.   Within six verses Jesus tells us to abide ten times.  You can sense his passion in this repeated plea.  In order for his supernatural power to be at work in our lives and thru us in the lives of those around us, we need to be well connected.  We need to abide and remain abiding in him!

 

            Remember the commercial, A Helping Hand Is Contagious?  I've watched over the years as Josh and Natalia Collier, came to faith thru Alpha, then slowly and surely deepend their connection to Christ thru the Body of Christ.   The two repeatedly reach out to encourage others to abide in Him as they do. This last year they reached out to two of our Alpha guests, Nick and Misty, who are now abiding..., who in turn reached out this winter to a homeless man, who, after moving to Port Angeles, took a bus in order to make it to Alpha and who exhibited great joy as joined in praying...for Josh!

 

 

                                                                                    -3-

 

            “My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father.I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love.   I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.  Yes, your joy will overflow!  This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.”  (John 15:8-12)  To abide is to relate…personally…intimately.   It’s relational!

                                                                                   

            His vision of the church is of that of a living organism deeply rooted in him, in his teachings and in his very Spirit, producing fruit, that when ripe, juicy and abundant, satisfies not only our deepest hunger and thirst, but that of the world around us as we share it/him thru perichoetic power!

 

            Pastor John Thomason illustrates this point in in his illustrated message on The One True Vine in a short film in which he speaks of the “Perichoretic Power” Jesus offers us!   Here it is...

 

            [Youtube video, “The Vine and the Branches”....]

 

            As noted, Jesus' vision of the church is of that of a living organism deeply rooted in him, in his teachings and in his very Spirit, producing fruit, that when ripe and abundant, satisfies not only our deepest hunger and thirst, but that of the world around us as we share it/him thru perichoetic power!

 

            Such a thing is possible where the Spirit’s Water of Life flows from the Father, thru the Vine, thru the branches, to the Father, thru the vine, thru the branches to a hungery, thirsty world, which ultimately glorifies the Father – the Master Gardener! 

 

            The world says everything is relative.  Jesus says no, everything is relational.  We strive for control, independence, to be the master of our own destiny. Jesus says, no, you are all dependent on me as interdependent branches on a vine.  “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  For apart from me you can do nothing.”                                                                                                                                                       (John 15:5)

            Jesus sees in you a work in progress.  He sees in you a potential yet untapped.  He sees a vine-yard of hurting hearts, who tend to get the horse before the cart, the crop before the dirt.  He sees in you a work in progress.   To bring his vision to life, he offers us “Perichoretic Power”!  “Yes, I Am the Vine; you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. “

“WHY PHILIPPI?”

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MARCH 11th, 2018                                                                                       PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      Acts 16:16-24; 25-40

 

                                                            “WHY PHILIPPI?

 

            Last week, we hit the road with Paul as he retraced his steps from his first mission trip across southern Galatia with Silas, his new traveling buddy.  Along the way Paul recruited his protege, Timo-thy, in Lystra, and then our author, Luke, in Troas before the Fantastic Four arrived in Philippi.  Wait;Philippi?  What's he doing in Greece? I thought he said he was taking the gospel to Asia!

 

            And what, you may ask, does Paul's trip to Philippi have to do with us today?  Why Philippi? Well, first of all, as we read last week, Paul's missionary team was repeatedly redirected by the Holy Spirit.  They had intended on going to Asia, and when that didn't work out, to Bithynia, but as Luke noted, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.”          (Acts 16:7)

                                                                                                                                   

            Instead, they wound up in the seaport of Troas: “That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was pleading with him, 'Come over to Macedonia to help us!'  So we decided to leave for Macedonia having concluded that God was calling us to preach there.  From there we reached the Roman colony of Philippi!”                  (Acts 16:9-10)

            So why are they in Philippi?  Because the Holy Spirit has sent them there.  But that raises another question, why did the Holy Spirit send them to Philippi?  Why Philippi? 

 

            Well, Philippi was located near the Roman port of Neapolis, right smack in the middle of the Egnatian Way, a network of roads connecting Rome with Greece & Turkey, making it a center of trade. The city was named after Alexander the Great's father, Phillip II of Macedonia,who fortified an ancient settlement in 356 BC to control the local gold mines.  It became part of the Roman Empire in 168 BC.  It was here that Mark Anthony and Octavian, (Caesar Augustus), defeated and killed Julius Caesar's assassins, Cassius and Brutus.   So it was a city rich with history and commerce. 

 

            In short, Philippi was a happening place, a cosmopolitan city of great influence in the growing Roman empire.  It was a strategic place to plant a church as a base of operations. 

 

            So why does this matter to us?  Well, because we gain some key insights here.  One, we learn that we sometimes need to give up our agenda, our plans, if we're to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

 

            Two, it's all about partnership.  On his first mission it was Barnabas.  Now Paul hooks up with Silas, then with Timothy as well as with Luke.   Together they prayed and listened for direction from the Spirit, looking for opportunities to engage those they met with the Gospel.  When they arrived in Philippi they headed to a place where people met for prayer. 

            Once there, Luke writes, “we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.” (Acts 16:13)  We sat down, Luke writes.   They did it together.   We work better...together!

            [U-tube video of 3 short cartoons....]  They traveled in groups.  We work better...together!

                                                                                   

            Three, is for the three converts who reveal a remarkable mix of race, social status, gender and age of the infant church. The first was a wealthy merchant, a single mother from Thyatira by the name of Lydia.  The second was a local Greek slave girl and the third was a middle-class Roman officer.   These three and their families comprise an extraordinary cross section of the ancient, cosmopolitan world.  With these first three converts we have three different nationalities, three different levels of status, three age groups and three very different circumstances by which they came to faith. 

                                                                                    -2- 

 

            Christian author, Martin Bell, gave this cross-section of the church an interesting name: God's rag-tag army.  “Look!  Here they come – marching to the beat of a different drum, a drum beat that is off-beat.  And everyone is out of step.  And there!  You see.  The commander keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of his tiny soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or eat a lotus or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush.  Some are dressed in uniform; others are dressed in rags.  Some are red, others yellow, some black and others off-white.  How silly they look to the on-lookers as they pass by.  Yet the commander loves them..., and so the march goes on!” 

                                                                                                (from Martin Bell's The Way of the Wolf)                  

            That's the church in Philippi – a rag-tag army, and precisely how Christ envisioned the church – not a place where people work hard at looking good, but who are good merely by association with the one calling them to march to the off-beat of a different drum.  That's who we're meant to be - a gather-ing not of religious people but relational people, who see the church as a hospital for hurting people.

 

            That's why the church at Philippi is so key to us today.  This is a vision of diversity, not of people united by race, gender, status or political opinion, but called and gathered by the Spirit of Jesus who loved on sinners of every persuasion.  Born in 52 AD thru an extraordinary display of God's power and love, the church in Philippi points to something that this world, not only in the first century, but in the 21st, desperately needs!  The power of the Holy Spirit was unleashed when Paul told an evil spirit tormenting a slave girl to come out of her.  “Paul said to the demon within her, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!'  Instantly it left her.”  (Acts 16:18)   

 

            They are inprisoned as a result and it's there while they're praying and singing hymns of praise that “there was a massive earthquake..., and all the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!  The jailor fell down trembling before Paul and Silas and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'”  (Acts 16:26, 30)   His life was forever changed!  That's number four...!

            The church in Philippi was born out of an outpouring of God's power!  When Claudia and I sat down by the ruins of the first church building there we heard a sound like hundreds of flutes playing....!

 

            The church in Philippi was born out of an outpouring of God's power!  Many here attribute the birth or growth of their faith to some display of God's power as well... (Shawn) For others, the develop-ment of their faith was more gradual and perhaps less dramatic, like Lydia's children and those of the prison guard, who came to a point where they didn't know a time when they didn't believe in Jesus.  Others, like the slave girl, were in a very dark place.  Josh shared his violent history, full of contempt, anger and rage – and now look at him! The fact that these three conversion stories reflect such diversity shows it doesn't matter how you came to faith so much as you walk in the confidence that “God, who began a good work within you, will continue his work until it is finished!”   (Philippians 1:6)

 

            Lydia, a prayerful woman who, upon hearing these guys talk, realizes that there is something missing in her life.  She’s a career woman long before there was such a thing.  Driven by success, but burdened with an emptiness, a crack in her wall widens as “the Lord opened her heart”.  (Acts 16:14)   

                                                                                   

            Then there’s the slave girl who's in bondage to an evil spirit.  She's having fun telling people their future and, in the process, making a fortune for her master, tho' her real master enslaves her from the inside out!  So Paul steps up to the plate and in the authority Jesus  gives to all who follow his lead, slams the enemy out of the park, silencing the demonic voices that seek to confuse God's power with that of the great deceiver.'Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said, 'I command you in the name of Jesus to come out of her!'                 (Acts 16:18)

                                                                                    -3-      

                                   

            And of course who can ignore the irony of the jailor’s story?  Under orders to lock them up in stocks for the night, the guard has it easy. The prisoners looks half dead already! It was after midnight when the walls shook, the lanterns went out and the locked doors swung open off their hinges. When the dust had settled the guard paniced.  He'd failed... His family would be dishonored! He draws his sword and...suddenly someone yells out, “Hey!  Stop!  You don't want to do it that!”  (Acts 16:28)

 

            That's number five, they came alive as they were set free, Lydia from her inner wall, the slave girl from the influence of the enemy & the jailor from his captivity to a false religion.  As a Roman, he'd been raised with a pagan world view, that there are many gods and these gods are angry, and need to be appeased.  It's ironic that God shook open the prison doors in order to rattle his cage...!

 

            Paul and Silas forego physical freedom so that this man might know eternal freedom who in turn goes out on a limb by bringing them home!  As Luke notes, “He brought them into his house and set a meal before them and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.”

                                                                                                                                                (Acts 16:34)

            They were free!  They no longer had to appease angry gods because their sins had already been forgiven by the Son of the Living God.  Their natural reaction of being set free from captivity, is that of joy and generosity.  His joy was so contagious that his entire household got all caught up in it..., not unlike the contagious joy of the American, British and Australian POW's at the end of World War II...  

            [1st DVD clip from the film, Unbroken; 2:04:30 – 2:05:50]  Being set free unleashes joy...!

           

            These multi-faceted forms of captivity are prevalent today as well.  People are entrapped in the confusion of false religions, or confined behind walls of fear, grief or anger erected or held captive by demonic interference.  But if the son of man sets you free, you will be free indeed!  For some, spiritual freedom occurs when the inner storm is silenced, as was the case with Louie Zamperini...

            [2nd DVD clip from the “Bonus” section of Unbroken; 12:43 – 15:35]

 

            The wall of anger and inner torment was gone.  The nightmares faded from memory and Louie became a force to be reckoned with, in Jesus' kgdm.  In the eve of spiritual liberty Paul & Silas model the perfect preparation: “Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”                                                                                                                                              (Acts 16:25)

            It all began with prayer and praise.  That's one reason why this is so vital - it restores our focus! Guided by Jesus' Spirit, Paul and Silas boldly engaged those in chains with a message and power of spiritual liberation.  And God is still on the move today, setting people free by his Spirit, so that as in Philippi, “the chains of every prisoner (may) fall off!”  (Acts 16:26)     

 

            Why Philippi?  Because God's on the move, then and now - 'cause we work better...together! 

"THE GOOD SHEPHERD"

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MARCH 7th, 2018                                                                 PASTOR DON PIEPER

PSALM 23                                                                              EZEKIEL 34:11-17,23-24

JESUS — THE GREAT I AM                                                   JOHN 10:2-4, 11-18

"THE GOOD SHEPHERD"

We've been exploring the I Am statements Jesus made to identify himself to those trying to sort him out and to reveal his sense of purpose. And so he says, I Am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)

It's the most illustrated of all the I am statements Jesus made. My first pictoral image of Jesus, in fact, was that of him holding a lamb. But Jesus was a carpenter not a shepherd! What did he mean?

Care to hear a story? A certain shepherd was looking after his sheep near a dirt road when a brand new Porsche suddenly raced up to an abrupt stop. The driver, a young man dressed in an Armani suit, aligator shoes and sporting a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, stepped out of the car. "Hey mister," he said, "if I can tell you how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?"

When the shepherd nodded in agreement, the young man parked his car, connected his laptop to his mobile, entered a NASA Webster, hooked up his gps and preceeded to print out several pages on his high-tech mini-printer. Then turning to the shepherd he said, "You have exactly 1,586 sheep here! "

Surprised the shepherd replied, "That's...right. I guess you may babe one." The young man grabbled an animal, put it in the back of his Porsche and started the engine, but before he drove off, the shepherd asked him, "If I guess your profession, will you return my animal to me?"

When the young man agreed, the shepherd matter of factly said, "You are in IT consultant. " The young man was equally impressed. "But — how did you know?"

"Very simple," said the shepherd. "First, you came here without being invited Second you charged me a fee to tell me something I already knew, and third you don't understand a thing about my business. Now, if you don't mind can I have my dog back?"

So how about you? How familiar are you with sheep and shepherding? Even though our neighbors have a sheep next door to the church here, most of us don't know a whole lot..., at least not from personal experience. But in biblical times, shepherds were as common place as rain is here in the northwest. Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David and his family were all shepherds.

Prophets like Amos, Micah and Isaiah referred to them; Jesus' birth is witnessed by them; the most famous psalm in the Bible is told by a shepherd depicting Yahweh, the Lord God, as a shepherd; and both Peter and Paul commissioned 'pastoral' leaders as shepherds over the church flock.

Paul: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you over­seers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood" (Acts 20:27-28)

Paul was, in fact, borrowing from Jesus, and a long tradition before him, referring to spiritual leaders as shepherds. So what does Jesus mean, he is The Good Shepherd? What are the implications of that metaphor and does it still have meaning in our post-modern culture?

I believe it does. And I think it works primarily on two levels. First, it works because we have some not-too-flattering similarities to sheep, and second, because Jesus' devotion and self-sacrificial love for you and me is similar to that of an ancient shepherd for his flock of sheep. As he notes rather prophetically: "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11)

 

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We resemble, in many ways, those wooly hoofed creatures of fluff and fame. How so? For one thing, sheep are notorious followers. Wherever a ram or sheep dog leads, they will follow without a thought to the consequences. Sheep have been known to wander over the edge of a cliff, one after another, if a reckless ram so leads. Among humans this social behavior was so well known in the ancient world that an idiom, still used today, came to identify it: the mob rules.

It came from the tendency of Roman citizens to act with crowd mentality, often in violent ways. I was once invited to a game at Comisky Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, that had just been host to a Kiss rock concert. Center field was no field of dreams but a field of cinders. Two partyers had set off bottle rockets and scores of others followed their lead, igniting anything flamable, and wound up torching the turf. The result? The center-fielders for the two teams couldn't get traction in the cinders leading to two errors by the White Sox that lost them the game. Anyone remember the blackout in LA?

Even believers are at risk. Does the name, Jim Jones, ring a bell? He gave new meaning to the phrase, like leading sheep to the slaughter! No wonder Jesus urgently warned against false shepherds! "(Such) men...care nothing for the sheep!" (John 10:13) I wonder, where are we at risk today?

Sheep also have a reputation for being willful and stubborn. Like goats they love to butt heads, but unlike goats, they don't have the cranium to protect their vulnerable brains! No wonder they're reknown for not being too bright! Remember Paul's first letter? "You foolish Galatians!"

(Galatians 3:1)

I was invited by a seminary classmate to her family's ranch home. That evening a thunderstorm crackled to life. With the first lick of lightning her father leaped out of the chair and headed out into the rain. When I asked where in the world he was going, my friend explained that he had to break up the flock, for in a thunderstorm they will huddle together so intensely that those in the middle will suffocate to death. It's one of many uses of the shepherd's crook! "Break it up! Break it up!"

That's the second profound insight of Jesus' analogy. He's like my friend's father, willing to brave the storm in order to keep his sheep from destroying themselves. As Jesus says of himself: "I am the Good Shepherd — I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and

I know the Father — and I lay down my life for my sheep."        (John 10:14-15)

A sheep-pen in the ancient world was generally a cave or circle of rocks piled high with but one way in or out. A devoted shepherd would guide his sheep in at the end of the day and lie down in that

opening, making himself the Gate, thus Jesus' statement: "I am the Gate!"   (John 10:7)

Being the Good Shepherd that he is, Jesus, has laid himself down — placing himself between us, his flock of sheep, and the mortal enemies of sin, death and the enemy — Satan! By laying down his life on the cross, Jesus provides the ultimate service of a good shepherd — one of peace and security.

In the Morph Course our home group learned of all the substitutes we trust in for security —money, work, family, money, success, popularity, money... Each is like a house built on sand...!

Matthew, the former tax-collector, a classic example of someone sought security in money, makes a timeless assessment of the human condition, and a profound observation of what Jesus was doing to address it, when he writes: "Jesus went through all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:35-36)

 

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His assessment of the human condition? We are like helpless and harassed sheep without a shepherd. Helpless — because there is nothing we can do to change our wooly ways. No matter how hard we try, we can not stop sinning, stop from doing the very things we know are not only counter­productive, but self-destructive. We are helpless to change ourselves. We need...help!

And we are harassed. We have an enemy out there, and in here, whispering in our ears. Jesus tell us he is a thief He wants to steal from us what God wants to generously give us. Jesus says of him: "(This) thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; but I have come that you may have life to the full!"

(John 10:10)

So how did this Good Shepherd, this life-giver, counter-attack the work of this thief? Matthew reports that he went all over the place — through all the towns and villages, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness! He told them about the kingdom and then he showed them the kingdom! Why? So that they would come to trust in him for their present and eternal security! He was shepherding them by loving on them in demonstrative ways!

That's what a Good Shepherd does. And as he did so, they came to recognize his voice. The more he told them about what the kingdom of heaven looks like when it breaks loose here on earth and demonstrated it thru healings, signs and wonders, the more they came to know and trust in his voice.

And what's so cool, is that as he was talking about shepherding and gatekeeping, he spoke of what he would do for all of us on the cross and how his kingdom would expand beyond the boundaries of Israel to include you and me! "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I'm going to bring them also. They too will hear my voice! And there shall be one flock and one shepherd.. (for) I will lay down my life only to take it up again!" (John 10:16-17)

That's why you, and me, we need a shepherd — and not just any shepherd — but the one and only really Good Shepherd. Because here's the thing: counselors can comfort you in the storm, but you need a Shepherd who can quiet the storm itself! Teachers and artists can depict the meaning of life, but you need the author of life to illuinate the ultimate meaning to life! Friends and family can hold your hand at your deathbed, but you need a Shepherd who can lead you beyond death to green pastures and still, living water. Pastors can tell you about eternal life but you need the Good Shepherd who's laid down his life only to take it up again, so that ultimately, you can as well!

You and me — we need a shepherd like gig! And my friends, we have one! Learn to put your complete trust in him, listen for his voice not only to comfort you, but to guide you and feed you so that you can feed others with the same word of life he has given you, the same glimpse of the kingdom he has entrusted to you, the same rich and satisfying life, following his lead, that He, the Good Shepherd, is leading you to! You and me — we need a shepherd like that! And my friends, we have one!

"An Opening"

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MARCH 4th, 2018                                                                 PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints Acts 15:36-16:5; 6-15

"AN OPENING"

Much has happened since we last gathered. The circumcision confusion has been resolved, an encouraging letter explaining it has been drafted, and Paul and Barnabas are ready to hit the road again. All is well in Christendom once more! But wait — no — our beloved heroes of the faith are having a bit of a tiff! Barnabas wants to bring John Mark again as their assistant but Paul adamently disagrees. The young whipper-snapper abandoned ship before it barely got started, Paul argues.

However, there's evidence that there's more to it than that! Their tiff may have looked like this:

Calvin:            Whaddaya Mean kids can't go out in public?! At least kids don't have fleas!

Hobbes:           That's only because fleas can't stand the way kids smell!

Calvin:            By golly, you're asking for a snowball in the mouth!

Hobbes:           You can't threaten me! I've got snowballs too! (PIFF/PAFF/POOF/PEFF/PUFF)! You know, maybe we don't need enemies.

Calvin:            Yeah, best friends are about all I can take.             (—Jungle Cat, p.48)

Even best friends some times have trouble getting along...! Okay, maybe it didn't look quite like that, but by cross-referencing Paul's recent letter to the Galatians we discover Paul had other issues with Barnabas than his choice for an assistant. As Paul writes: "other Jewish believers followed Peter's

hypocrisy, even Barnabas was led astray..."           (Galatians 2:13)

So it is that Paul and Barnabas have a falling out. When the dust settles, Barnabas and Mark set sail for Cyprus, while Paul and Silas hit the road for Galatia. So their tiff results in not one but two mission trips. It would seem, that nothing gets wasted in the kingdom of God!

The stoning of Stephen led to the scattering of believers and the spread of the gospel, Saul's trip to arrest Christians in Damascus led to Paul's conversion and now his tiff with Barnabas has led to the doubling of their missionary efforts. God loves to turn the tables on the schemes of the enemy!

Not only that by Paul's parting with Barnabas launches not one but three more Kingdom players into action — the first of which is Silas of Jerusalem. He is introduced as "being a prophet, who had spoken at length to the believers (in Antioch), encouraging and strengthening their faith."

(Acts 15:32)

Silas will be Paul's right hand man throughout his second mission trip. He will come to be known as courageous Silas — beaten alongside Paul in Ephesus, singing with him in chains in Philippi and proclaiming the gospel of Christ together wherever the Spirit sends them. And look where the Spirit sends them — right back where Paul had been brutalized before — retracing his steps backwards from his first mission trip. Taking the Via Sabaste..., they travel thru Syria and then Cilicia, passing through Paul's hometown in Tarsus, and then on to the churches Paul planted in Derbe, then Lystra, then up to Iconium, before returning to Antioch of Pisidia. In each place they read the letter from the Jerusalem council, "and the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew in numbers."

(Acts 16:5)

Along the way, they recruit another traveling buddy — young Timothy. Rememer him? He came to faith during Paul's first mission trip to Lystra. God used Paul to change his mind with persuasive words, loving deeds & clear demonstrations of God's power! This is the same Timothy, for whom two letters are addressed in the New Testament in which Paul writes: "Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you...giving you the spirit of power, love & self-discipline." (2 Tim. 1:6-7) There Paul affectionately refers to Timothy as his son - his protege'.

 

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Ever since Paul laid his hands on Timothy and he was filled with the Holy Spirit Tim's mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, have been discipling him in the faith. But God still has one more traveling buddy to add to this mission team, changing it from a terrific trio to a formidable foursome!

The fourth enters the adventure inconeudo! His entrance is so subtle that he's never even men­tioned by name. You can find him only by listening for the narrative to shift to the third person plural: "They went on thru Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man pleading with him, 'come over to Macedonia and help us!' So decided to leave for Mace-

donia at once, having realized that God was calling in to preach there! "          (Acts 16:8-10)

So Paul picks up another traveling buddy in the seaport of Troas evident in Luke's abrupt shift to the third person plural — from they went to Troas to we decided to leave...! Welcome Dr. Luke!

They're the original Fantastic Four, only they're not superheroes, they're ordinary men relying on the leading and power of the Holy Spirit. Over and over again they get redirected, learning to dis­tinguish between their desires and those of the Spirit, and the Spirit was sending them to Greece! * !

So it is that they arrive in Philippi — a Roman colony and hub of northern Macedonia in Greece. The city was named after King Phillip, the father of Alexander the Great, and its ruins are an archeolo­gist's paradise! Fil never forget our day there made priceless as had the place nearly to ourselves...!

Just as Luke describes, we went a little way outside the city to a nearby riverbank,(Acts 16:13), where a monument and little church are dedicated to a most remarkable woman, Lydia of Thyatira.

Luke tells us that "she was a worshipper of God", (Acts 16:14) a title that infers that she is a Gentile, worshipping with the Jews in her area. Luke tells us that she is a woman of means, running her own business, a lucrative enterprise selling expensive dyed silk & cloth. She owns her own home and has brought along other women from her household there to the riverbank to worship Yahweh.

Lydia is an amazing woman, but it's not her prestige or financial savvy that gets her name in print, but her bold and courageous faith. As Mother Teresa put it: "We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful" (Mother Teresa) — and faith is precisely what sets Lydia apart! She's not only the first woman in her town to embrace Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she's the first person in all of Europe! Her entire household is baptized along with her and the church in Philippi is born!

As Claudia & I sat on that riverbank cooling our feet in the waters in which Lydia was baptized I marveled at the wonder of it all. Through Lydia, the Holy Spirit began a chain reaction that led to my own baptism & the resurrection rejuvenation that continues to sweep me off my feet! I was filled again!

In verse 14 Luke shares with us the pivotal moment that led to Lydia's bold new faith: "The Lord opened her heart and she accepted what Paul was saying." (16:14) The expression Luke uses here is an echo of one found at the end of his gospel. Two of Jesus' disciples are heading to Emmaus when Jesus, risen from the dead, breaks bread with them. "Suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized (Jesus). They said to each other, 'Didn't our hearts burn within us as he talked with us?'

(Luke 24:31-32)

The reference there is to their eyes but the verb and the verb tense are identical, and the impact is the same — opened hearts, burning in new recognition - and the next thing we know, "She's being baptized along with other members of her household..." (Acts 16:15)...in the waters of rejuvenation!

 

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Lydia was a woman of incredible courage, running her own business in a male-dominated soci­ety! But as impressive as that was it is not why her name is recorded in history's most holiest of books. No, the reason Lydia is known to us by name is because the Lord opened her heart...and she her home! Apparently, her heart had been closed — perhaps grieving the loss of her husband...

So how did her life come to be catapulted into one of eternal significance? It happened because Lydia's worship and prayer life put her in a place where her heart could be opened. She was a Gentile worshipping with Jews because she knew there was more to life...!

In the film, The Shack, Mack is a man with a wounded, angry heart. Estranged from his father, and grieving the loss of his daughter, Mack is man adrift. He's drowning in anger. The condition of his heart and soul is depicted in a scene where he's in a boat sinking in the muck of his own making:

[dvd clip from the film, The Shack; 1:13:30 — 1:16:251

Looking at Jesus, his heart is opened, prompting him to let go of his anger, and leading him to a

cosmic shift...            [dvd clip from the film, The Shack; 1:30:30 — 1:31:00; 1:32:30 — 1:34:45]

It always works better when we do life together with Jesus by our side. ...Catherine Marshall: "The search for God begins at the point of need Most feel this need either because of some problem which we have no answer to or because of a nagging awareness we should be getting more out of life."

(Catherine Marshall)

That's how God engaged a number of us at the Alpha retreat — at our point of need. Longings were met, inner walls crumbled, hearts were opened and as a result, tears flowed. So it was with Lydia. We're not told what Paul and his traveling buddies said, but we can guess. Something tho' connected —perhaps with her longing for deeper meaning, maybe it was Paul's vision that moved her — he told them that a man from her country appeared to him and pleaded with him, "We need your help!" - or maybe it was Timothy's Spirit-filled conversion..., or the realization that her husband's death was not due to God's anger or lack of love..., but whatever it was, a wall crumbled and her heart melted...and opened.

As God promised thru the prophet Ezekiel: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart offlesh, and I will put my Spirit in you!"

(Ezekiel 11:19)

Jesus is still on the scene doing open heart surgery to ignite our faith where it has flat lined, to reveal that there's more to life than what we've settled for, by saving us from ourselves.

What made Lydia extraordinary was her bold willingness to bring Jesus mission into her home, which was possible because Lydia's worship and prayer life put her in a place where her heart could be opened. As Paul would later write to Timothy: "Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you . For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline: Never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord With the strength God gives you be ready to suffer for the sake of the Good News, for God saved us and called us to live a holy life... " (2 Timothy 1:6-9)

Maybe God has sent someone to you...maybe he's sending you...that hearts may be opened!

Let's pray: Set us on fire, Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, and fill us with your love...! Give us strength and courage to live lives that honor you! Open the eyes of my heart, Lord — I want to see you! Join me in praying that.... Pray it....as we sing it! Open me up, Lord.