“THE COMPARISON CONUNDRUM”

DECEMBER 16th, 2018                                                                                PASTOR DON PIEPER

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Dealing With Your Feelings                                                     James 3:7-18/Luke 1:5-8,11-3,17-23

 

                                                THE COMPARISON CONUNDRUM

 

            At Thanksgiving we're supposed to feel thankful, at Christmas, the emphasis is on being joyful and at New Year's, that of being hopeful, but often our feelings are out of sync with the season.  So how do you deal with those feelings?  One woman wrote her pastor, telling of her conflicting emotions:

            “It just doesn't seem like life, or God, is fair.  Instead of feeling thankful or joyful at this time of year, the truth is, I feel resentful.  I look around at other people who have it better than I do and I wonder why God doesn't improve my situation.  I feel like I got a raw deal...” 

 

            The woman in question is a case study of  the comparison conundrum.  Left unchecked, it's a way of thinking that can rob us of any chance at being truly happy.  It’s because comparing always leads to coveting, and coveting always leads to conflict.  As James puts it: “For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil.”   (James 3:16)                               Perhaps a demonstration of this in action might help.   Consider life as a minion....

                        [DVD clip from the film, Despicable Me;                                          ]

 

            “Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder...” (James 3:16)

Any parent with more than one child can attest to the truth of that.  Consider Linus and Lucy...

 

Linus:              You think you're smart just because you're older than I am!  You just happened to be

                        born first that's all!  You were just lucky!   I didn't ASK to be born second! 

                        I didn't even get a chance to fill out an application!           (Parables of Peanuts, p. 281) 

 

            The truly tragic element of the comparison conundrum is that it not only affects our human relationships, but also that with God.  I read of a woman who was visited by her pastor in the hospital.  After sharing communion he took her hand in his and gave her a smile before parting. 

            Her roommate's husband also visited, wearing his clerical collar as he was also a pastor.  He gave his wife a hug and a kiss when he entered and again just before leaving.  Later, the first woman began to vent: “No more!  That's it!  I'm leaving my church!”         'But why?' the other asked. 

            “It's not fair.  I tithe and everything but my pastor isn't nearly as friendly as yours is!” 

 

            Zachariah's encounter with the angel, Gabriel, shows how the comparison conundrum can affect our faith.  Luke describes Zachariah and Elizabeth as being “righteous in God's eyes” and obedient to God's word.  Then, a few verses later, we hear how Zachariah fails to believe the angel's message and, as result of his disbelief, is struck dumb for the duration of his wife's pregnancy.  Is it just me or does that strike anyone else as odd?  I mean, we were just told how devout and faithful he is...! 

 

            Contrast his response to that Mary.  When she receives the news that she, a virgin, will give birth to God's son, her initial response is similar to Zachariah's, “But how can this happen?”  (Luke 1:34)           But ultimately, Mary comes to a place of quiet resolve and acceptance as she later declares:

“I am willing to accept whatever the Lord wants.  May it happen just as you have said.”  (Luke 1:38)

                                                                                     

            So where lies the difference in Zachariah's attitude and response with that of Mary?  Luke pro-vides three clues.  The first is found in a slight variation of the question both asked.  Zachariah asks, “how can I know this will happen?”  (Luke 1:18)  While Mary's question is one of confusion and wonder the added words, 'I know', in Zachariah's question point to unbelief and a request for proof.   

                                                                                    -2- 

 

            The second clue, as noted, is the consequence.  Mary finds her voice in her trusting resignation that the shame and scorn she will soon endure for being pregnant without being married, does not com-pare with the joy of knowing she will be an instrument of God's plan, evident in her singing one of the most famous songs in all of scripture: The Magnificat, that begins: “My soul magnifies the Lord!”

                                                                                                                                                (Luke 1:46)                 Contrast that with Zachariah, whose disbelief in God's promise results in his losing his voice.  “Since you didn't believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.”                                                                                                                                        (Luke 1:20)    

            The third clue is found on the lips of his wife, Elizabeth, who refers to her “disgrace among the people.”  (Luke 1:25)  There it is – the comparison conundrum!  They've been compared to others who've raised children while Elizabeth has remained barren and Zachariah apparently got hooked. 

 

            “How can I know this will happen?”    We've been praying for a long time for a child and God has never responded before.  And besides, look at all our neighbors – their kids have kids of their own, for crying out loud!”  (Luke 1:18)

            There's an undercurrent of resentment here and the result of his resentment towards his neigh-bors is his doubting Gabriel's good news, culminating in his being impaired to fulfill his obligations as priest.   Can you imagine my standing up here and pantomiming my message for 9 months?  Our feel-ings of resentment and jealousy hinder not only our relationships with one another but also with God. 

 

            One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small boy into bed.  She was about to turn off the light when he whimpered, 'Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?'

 

            His mother smiled and giving him a hug, said, 'I can't dear.  I have to sleep in Daddy's room.' As she turned off the light she heard a shaky, little voice say, 'the big sissy!' 

 

            Giving into jealousy and resentment not only impacts our human relationships but with our heavenly Father as well.  So what can we do?  Consider the Biblical Resentment Treatment Program, which comes with at least three applications.  First we need to realize...God has a good plan. 

 

            In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul wrote, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

                                                                                                                                    (Romans 8:28)

            To overcome jealousy and resentment I need to realize that God has a plan for my life.   Maria Von Trapp, made famous by the film, The Sound of Music, was lied to by the Hollywood machine and was tricked into selling the rights to her story for a fly in the bucket, later wrote this:

 

            “While my family could have held it against me, reminding me daily that they could now be sitting back and taking it easy instead of working so hard, but they all forgave me long, long ago.  That alone is worth the experience of that fated mistake.  Then there is the countless letters from all over the world, telling me that watching “The Sound of Music” has strengthened their trust in God or made them think for the first time in their life that God is Somebody who can be trusted.

                                                                                     

            One person wrote: “The most important thing in life is to find out what is the will of God and then go do it. If it has turned out in the case of the Trapp family so well and so successfully in their lives, then maybe I'll try too.”   Letters like this make me fold my hands and say from the bottom of my heart, 'Dear Lord, thank you for the Sound of Music.”                  (Maria Von Trapp)

                                                                                    -3-

            That which had caused her initial shame and resentment, having been taken advantage of to the amount of millions of dollars, Maria came to realize that God had a plan for her life and would use that experience to her gain.  She came to realize, God had a good plan for her life. 

 

            Its a common theme throughout scripture such as in the story of Joseph and his jealous brothers. Out of jealousy of their father's preferential treatment towards Joseph, his brothers sold him into slavery leading to his living apart from his family in the foreign country of Egypt, where God blesses him and he winds up at the head of Egypt's government, second only to pharaoh.  But only in retrospect does he come to see how God used their evil act and his own loss to further his plan: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good, so that the lives of many people might be saved thru me.”

                                                                                                                                    (Genesis 50:20)

            The second anecdote to resentment is to rejoice in what you've been given.  Instead of worrying about what I don't have or have lost, instead of looking at what others have, I rejoice in my blessings. That's exactly what Elizabeth does.  She rejoices, first alone, and then later with Mary. 

                                                                                   

            Later, Zachariah praises God as well, having regained his voice upon the birth of his son: “Praise the Lord...because He has visited His people!”  (Luke 1:68)

            Jesus, in his parable of the prodigal son, underscores the same as the older son, filled with resentment, is approached by his father: “Look, son, you and I have always been close, and everything I have is yours.  But today we celebrate because your brother was lost but now is found!”  (Luke 15)

 

            But be forewarned – the idea of rejoicing in what you've been given will be sorely tested.  Not only will you go thru seasons of loss and longing but for months, marketers and advertisers have been planning on how to feed feelings of discontent, looking for creative ways to trigger feelings of jealousy, envy and selfish ambition, to make you long for what others have and you don't.  They want you to buy into the when-and-then-trap – literally.  You know the appeal – when you get this or that, then you'll be happy; but joy, which runs far deeper than circumstantial happiness, does not come to us by getting whatever we want but by being content with what we already have and by joining in all of creation as it finds its voice to bring God glory. As the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven..!” 

                                                                                                                                                (Luke 2:14)

            The third antidote to jealousy and resentment is to refocus.   Instead of focusing on yourself and your problems, turn the focus onto God's purpose, and how you're uniquely poised to help others...  As the apostle Paul so poignantly put it: 'God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When others are troubled, we're able to give them the same comfort God's given us.'

                                                                                                                                    (2 Corinthians 1:4)

            Stephen Covey was taking the subway train home when a man with four small children got on. The man sat next to Covey as his children ran up and down the aisle, yelling.  One child grabbed a newspaper out of the hands of one passenger while his sibling knocked over a sack of groceries of another.  Meanwhile, their father did nothing, staring blankly out the window. 

 

            Annoyed and resenting the disturbance, Covey tapped the father on the shoulder and spoke his mind: “Excuse me, sir.  Don't you think you should do something about your children?”  

            The man turned and replied, 'I guess you're right.  Admittedly I'm not sure how to best handle the situation.  You see, we just came from the hospital.  My wife, their mother, died about an hour ago.'

 

            At that moment, everything looked different.  God offered Covey a fresh perspective.  His focus shifted from his own discomfort and annoyance to the man's grief, and that of his children.   If you ask for it, God will provide it, and sometimes he'll provide it, even without asking – a chance to refocus. 

                                                                                    -4-

 

 

            Three antidotes we glimpse in the back story to Jesus' birth: 1) Realize … God has a good plan in the works; 2) Rejoice … in the good things God's already provided; and 3) Refocus … on the big picture, letting God use your struggles as a means for reaching out and helping others in a world of hurt. 



“WHAT? ME WORRY?”

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DECEMBER 2nd, 2018                                                                     PASTOR DON PIEPER

Dealing With Your Feelings                                                            PS 37:1-7/ Matthew 6:25-34

 

                                                “WHAT?  ME WORRY?

 

            Today we begin a four week series on “Dealing With Your Feelings”.  Advent is a season of emotions, of anticipation and preparation, a time of wonder and reflection – or at least that's how it was once observed. Now it's more a season of stress, pressure and added worries. Just think of all the things we squeeze into our already busy schedules!  I mean, who decided that during this month we ought to write a letter to far-flung friends and distant relations, or bake things we never bake any other time?  I mean, fruitcake?  What's with that?  Just remember, you are what you eat!

 

            Then there's the decorating, tree acquisition, putting up lights, shopping – possibly on black Friday, (talk about stress), as well as being exposed to an onslaught of commercialization...  Then right in the middle of the madness, the kids are set loose from school for 2-4 weeks.  So who came up with all these bright ideas anyway?  No wonder we're overwhelmed and stressed out!  What?  Me Worry...? 

 

Violet:             What are you two standing here looking so worried about?

C.B.:                We're afraid of the future. 

Violet:             Are you worried about anything in particular?

C.B.:                Oh no, we're worried about everything! 

Linus:              Yes, our worrying is very broadminded.         

 

            Studies show that we are a people showing signs of stress and strain.  Time, Newsweek and U.S. Report have all run articles on the growing tide of stress-related illnesses, including a disturbing trend for these “worrisome” symptoms increasing among our youth.  Consider six-year-old Calvin...

 

Calvin:                  Sometimes at night I worry about things..., and then I can't fall asleep.  

                 In the dark, it's easier to imagine awful possibilities that you'd never be prepared for.                              And it's hard to feel courageous in loose-fitting drowsy bear jammies. 

Hobbes:     That's why tigers sleep in the buff! 

 

            Hobbes always has such helpful input.  Truth is, though, there's much to worry about.  Job uncertainty is a major cause of worry in our area.  Stats show that financial stress is at the heart of 70% of marital tension.  Add to that our fear of terrorism, political polarization, global warming and the worldwide spread of epidemic diseases and most would agree, we have good cause to worry. 

 

            How then can we take seriously Jesus' words: “Don't worry about tomorrow”? (Matthew 6:34)  Is that even possible – to not worry at all?  What is Jesus trying to say? 

 

            Secular magazines today are filled with articles recommending all kinds of solutions, from breathing exercises, to aerobics, to punching a pillow, to sniffing a special blend of armpit. No kidding! 

 

            As appealing as these stress solutions may be, and I won't ask which of these options you find most appealing, they are temporary remedies at best.  Like cough syrup, they treat the symptoms and not the cause.   Jesus, on the other hand, with a deep love and concern for those who'd seek to follow his lead, offers a solution to treat the root cause of worry and stress.  Unlike a detached doctor who treats a condition he or she has never suffered themselves, Jesus knows first hand the stress we face. 

 

                                                                        -2-

 

            If anyone had cause to worry, Jesus did.  He faced the pressures of day-to-day living with no regular source of income.  He knew the pain of losing a dear friend, the lure of powerful temptations, the sting of personal rejection and the anguish of anticipating tremendous pain and anguish.   He had good cause to worry when he told his friends, “Do not worry about these things...”   (Matthew 6:31)

 

            In his book, The Jesus Lifestyle, Nicky Gumbel cites a number of reasons why we should not worry.   One, it is incompatible with faith.  One cannot not worry and wholeheartedly trust in God at the same time.  That's why in the midst of his teaching on worrying, Jesus asks, “Why do you have so little faith?”  As one church sign puts it: 'Why pray when you can worry and take tranquilizers?' 

                                                                                                                        (Matthew 6:30)

            Two, worrying lacks common sense.  We know what worry does to us.  It raises our heart rate and blood pressure, causes anxiety and triggers friction in relationships.  Its even been proven to shorten life.  Even presumptuous young Calvin understands this...

 

Calvin:          I think people worry too much about little things. All they do is make themselves unhappy                        that way.  Why get an ulcer over things that don't really matter? 

Hobbes:       Like the book report you're supposed to be writing right now on the book you haven't read.

Calvin:                    Exactly. Case in point. 

 

            Three, worry is a complete waste of time.  As Winston Churchill said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his death bed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.”  (Winston Churchill)                          

           
            Four, worry is illogical. Jesus' reference to the birds implies this truth. (cartoon: 'What's eatin' him?'  'I guess God doesn't take care of him like He does us.')  Or as Mike Minion puts it: 'Don't worry about what I'm doing, worry about why you're worried about what I'm doing!'

 

            Uh, yeah.  Finally, Five, worry causes us to miss the point of life.  Worrying about material things leads only to emptiness and pain.  In the words of Elton John: “I had 40 years of pain and nothing to cling to.  My career was a success but my life was pretty miserable.”                         (Elton John)

                                                                                                                       

            So during this season of stress and strain, how do we avoid the pitfalls of worrying?  With so much on our minds and schedules, how do we apply Jesus' challenging words to our lives?  What, then, is Jesus' worry-free solution?   Three things Jesus would have you employ.  First, embrace a more biblical perspective about what's important and what it is that God himself values. 

 

            “So I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds.  They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your Heavenly Father feeds them.  And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are?”   (Matthew 6:25-26)

 

            Jesus was saying that we should be careful not to get so caught up in the externals of life that we lose sight of that which is eternal – your soul and its relationship to your soul provider – God! 

 

            After all, if anyone's on God's welfare plan its the birds.   Think about it.  A bird's life consists of flying around scavenging.  They eat, they chirp, they drop little bombs on people's cars and yet even still, God takes care of them.  And then Jesus points out, you, of course, are of far greater value to God.

                                                                        -3- 

 

            Then he adds, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  (Matthew 6:27)  He's urging here a new perspective, a biblical worldview, in which we trust that God's got our back... 

            Jesus' first worry-free solution, then, is for you to gain a new perspective.  Where, then, do you get your sense of worth?  From your friends?  From your parents?  From your significant other?  From your work?  Or does your worth originate in God?  You are of far more value to God than you realize! 

 

            Second, you can vastly reduce your stress level by praying more and worrying less.  It's no coin-cidence that Jesus' teaching on living a worry-free life is sandwiched between his teachings on prayer.  The apostle Paul picked up on in his letter to the church in Philippi: “Don't worry about anything.  Instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need and thank Him for all that He's done.”                                                                                                                                 (Philippians 4:6)

            Many of us tend to approach prayer as life's panic button, praying as a last resort when all else fails, but we're encouraged in scripture to pray about everything.  In the words of Rick Warren: “If a matter is not serious enough to pray about, then it is not serious enough to worry about; and if it is serious enough to pray about, and we have prayed about it, then there is no need to worry about it.”                                                                                                                                 (Rick Warren) 

            Marianne Brown was a woman who had much to worry about.  She had been born with congen-ital heart defect and was an easy target for assorted viruses and disorders.  In addition to those concerns she was a mother of five.  She was constantly stressed to the point of exhaustion. 

 

            One morning a neighbor dropped in, and over a cup of tea, Marianne poured out her troubles and worries.  The friend admitted that she had no answers for Marianne but suggested that they pray together.  So they did.  There was nothing unusual nor dramatic about the prayer.  Yet it seemed to relieve the tension, so they prayed again a few days later.  Soon a small group formed.... 

 

            Around that time their high school age daughter suffered a serious breakdown.  Their small group gave them support thru the crisis and once again their prayers brought startling results.  Their daughter's unexpectedly speedy recovery filled the Browns with gratitude to God and their friends.

            One night, as they were closing with a circle of prayer, Marianne found herself slipping to her knees as deep feelings of gratitude to God for his nearness and goodness bubbled up and spilled into words that poured out of her in a torrent.  In her own words, she later shared, “God's Spirit took over and seemed to immerse my whole being.  I had been only half-living, because I had only been half-feeling.  (I discovered in Jesus) every desire I had ever had was fulfilled.” 

                                                                        (from Catherine Marshall's Beyond Ourselves)

            Nothing transforms life's worries more effectively than praise and prayer! 

 

            Jesus' third remedy to worry and stress is to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.  That is, we need to change our priorities.  Instead of offering God our leftovers we give him our all.  

                                                                                                                        (Matthew 6:33)

            Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch woman whose family hid Jews in their home from the Nazi's, and spent the last couple of years of the war in a concentration camp, once said: “When I look at the world I get distracted.  When I look at myself I get depressed but when I look at Jesus, I find rest.”

                                                                                                                        (Corrie Ten Boom)

            I read a story of two missionaries, a husband and wife, who were serving a mission outpost in Laos in the 50's as tensions were rising that eventually led to the Viet Nam War.  Ted and Ruth were forced to make a difficult decision.  To assure their children's safety Ruth would take the children back to the states while Ted finished his work teaching the Bible and disciplining the new believers. 

                                                                        -4-

 

            Ruth struggled with feelings of fear and resentment.  She worried for her husband's safety and loathed the idea of her family being separated.  She urged Ted to reconsider.  Ted took Ruth's hands, smiled and replied, “You know, Ruth, the safest place in the world is in the will of God.” As it turned out, three months later God led Ted out just before soldiers raided their home and school.

 

            We also live in a war zone, where the enemy is eager to invade our minds with thoughts of fear and worry, doubt and uncertainty.  Jesus was not being unrealistic, or even idealistic, as he encouraged his followers not to worry but to trust in God as they sought out the kingdom of God first and before all else.  Jesus offers us, in the midst of trying times to which he himself was no stranger, a new perspec-tive, a biblical view, in which our value is no longer based on what we do or what others think of us but purely based on what God thinks of us!   And I pray you know what He thinks of you for He has invested all he's got, the blood of his only beloved son, in you and in your future!   

 

            So confidently bring your cares and concerns to Jesus in prayer, and leaving them there, may your heart and hands be free to pursue his person and his mission as your top priority, that with your focus firmly on him and his kingdom the worries of life may lose their hold and influence in your life. 

 

            “So don't worry about all these things..., (but rather) seek first the Kingdom of God above all else and to live righteously, and God will give you everything you need!”  (Matthew 6:31, 33)

            Because, after all, the safest place in the world is in the will of God!    

 

 

"FEELING BLUE? BE RENEWED!”

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DECEMBER 9th, 2018                                                                                  PASTOR DON PIEPER

Dealing With Your Feelings                                                                        PS 13 / 1 KINGS 19:1-13

 

                                                “FEELING BLUE?  BE RENEWED!

 

            Have you ever noticed how the holidays magnify the emotions?  The highs are higher and the lows lower.  Some people are in ecstasy; others in agony.  For some the holidays that twinkle silver and gold all around them are full of black and blue within them. 

 

            During this season suicide rates go up, marriages fall apart and family conflicts intensify.  Last year at Christmas, over three million arguments led to police intervention.   So how do you deal with how you feel when you're feeling blue?  To be sure, you wouldn't be alone. Over 18 million Americans, according to recent estimates, will be struggling with feelings of depression this Christmas. 

 

            Godly people get depressed as well – people like Moses, Jeremiah, Job, and the subject of this morning's character study – the prophet, Elijah.  Elijah was given an enormous task of telling King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, that because of their wickedness, God was bringing on a severe drought. 

 

            For some reason, Ahab and Jezebel didn't like Elijah very much after that.  Imagine that!  Mean- while, some false prophets led the people in to worshipping idols of bulls called Baal.  So Elijah set up a kind of showdown of sorts – a showdown to establish clearly once and for all who the true God really is – Baal or the God of Israel.  The account is found in the preceding chapter, where it reads:

            “Then Elijah said to Ahab and his prophets, 'Get two bulls for us.  Let your prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it.  I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood without igniting it.  Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord.  The god who answers by fire – He is God!'” 

                                                                                                                                    (1 Kings 18:23-24)

            So Elijah's saying, “Let's build two altars.  I'll build one to my God over here.  You build one to yours over there.  We'll butcher some bull, pray and see which God sends down fire to cook our BBQ.”

 

            It brings to mind a Sunday school class that was studying this very story.  The teacher explained how Elijah commanded the people of God to fill four barrels of water and pour it over his altar and its trench four separate times.  “Now,' the teacher asked, 'can anyone tell me why the Lord would have Elijah pour water over the bull on the altar?' 

            A little boy leaped to his feet.  'I know!' he exclaimed.  'To make the gravy!' 

 

            So..., the false prophets prayed to Baal while their steak sat in the sun all day going bad.  Elijah prayed and instantly fire from heaven incinerated the bull and all the water in the trench.  Crispy! 

            “Instantly the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the bull, the wood, the stones and even the dirt.  It even evaporated every drop of water in the trench.  When the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, 'The Lord is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”

                                                                                                                                    (1 Kings 18:38-39)  

            With that event, God promptly ended the drought, so abruptly, in fact that Ahab had to hightail it so as to not get his chariot stuck in the mud.  And if that wasn't amazing enough already, when he returned to the city entrance, some 18 miles away, there was Elijah, waiting for him. The power of God had come upon Elijah and he outran Ahab's chariot, and then some!  Imagine how that was for Elijah!

            There you are, sitting on the city gates, as the fellowship of the King come riding into town.  Reminds me of a couple of hobbits...

            [DVD clip from the film, Return of the King;                                   ]

                                                             -2-

 

            What a great moment for the prophet Elijah!  If I'm in his place I'd probably do a little victory dance and maybe even sing a song: “We are the champions!  We are the champions!  My God not your gods, cause Yahweh's the champion..., of  the world!”    Something like that,  right? 

 

            But here's the thing.  Just a short time later, having escaped Jezebel's murderous wrath, we find Elijah discouraged and depressed. We're told: “He went into the wilderness, came to a broom tree and sitting beneath it prayed that he might die. 'I've had enough, Lord!' he prayed.  'Take my life!'”

                                                                                                                                                (1 Kings 19:4)   

            From victory to the valley, from the mountaintop to the wilderness, just like that!  Biblically the wilderness is not just a location it’s suggestive of a person's emotional and spiritual state.  “I am no better than my ancestors!” Elijah bemoans, (1 Kings 19:4), revealing that he feels he's as bad as those who wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their lack of faith.  His story, his isolation and struggle with discouragement, offers insight to those who likewise battle the battle of the blues. 

                                                                                                                                               

            For those of us who struggled with bouts of melancholy, three key insights leap off the page.   First, be aware of your vulnerability to melancholy.  What has triggered such moments in the past? 

 

            Elijah hit several common trigger points for depression.  For one, he was physically fatigued.  Having just run an 18-mile marathon, he is once again, on the run.  He's exhausted.  It’s key that we're told that Elijah sought and found rest.  We're told that after he prayed, “he lay down under the tree and fell asleep”.  (1 Kings 19:5)  And again, after the angel ministered to him, “he lay down again.”

                                                                                                                                                (1 Kings 19:6)

            One thing that makes us vulnerable to the blues is that we allow ourselves to get too stretched, too stressed, and don't allow ourselves to truly rest.  As an insomniac, that's certainly true for me. 

 

            We're also told that Elijah had gone straight from the mountain into the wilderness, physically and spiritually.  He was stressed and under pressure, facing ongoing conflict, hunger and personal threats.  In such a season, even a Holy Spirit anointed man of God can lose perspective. 

 

            But perhaps the biggest trouble spot was that of his being alone.  We're told back in verse three: “He left his servant in Beersheba and went on alone.”  (1 Kings 19:3)   For those who suffer sadness and depression during the holidays, loneliness is by far the number one trouble spot, our achilles heel.

 

            As Julia Roberts once admitted, “I've felt incredible loneliness in my life.  What is the point of having a great job or experiencing something spectacular if you have no one to share it with?  If life is experienced alone, it's all really pointless, really.  It's all just vapor.”     (Julia Roberts)

           

            We're at the greatest risk when we isolate ourselves.  When we do, we fall into the trap laid for us by the enemy.  One of the first lies the enemy utters in the ears of the discouraged is this: “Its hope-less. No one understands.  No on can relate.”  But that's a lie.  In fact, one reason God sent His son was so God, thru him, could relate to us, share our pain and redeem it.  So first, be aware of when you are vulnerable to feeling blue and remember to fight, the urge to isolate!

                                                                                   

            Second, pursue a fresh perspective!  Sitting under that broom tree, Elijah lost perspective.  I don't know, maybe he thought, he could sweep his heartache under a rock with that broom...tree, but human remedies like entertainment, sex or drugs are temporary at best. 

 

                                                                                    -3-

 

            Like Elijah, as he later sat in that cave, we tend to be consumed with the wall right in front of us and lose the big picture.  We can't see the mountain for the cavern walls around us, dismissing what God has done for the voices within us and sometimes around us filling our head with dark thoughts...    

 

            There was a church in Tennessee whose preacher was letting everyone have it one morning.  'It won't be long until everyone around here will be dead!' he shouted.  People's shoulders drooped except for one fellow who sat there smiling.  The preacher glared at him and shouted, 'Didn't you hear me?  Everybody around here, sooner or later, is going to wind up dead!' 

            The fellow smiled and replied, “That's too bad, but I, for one, ain't from around here!”

 

            Sometimes what we chiefly need is perspective. Amidst the doom and gloom we're wise to keep in mind that we are not of this world, we ain't from around here!  We belong to what Jesus called, the Kingdom of heaven!  The big picture is that troubles will come, but as Jesus declared, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart, for I have overcome the world!”  (John 16:33) 

 

            The third insight is this: in times of discouragement, seek to be renewed by God's Spirit, who brings peace to the troubled mind and great joy that is for all the people – including you!  That renewal takes shape in several ways.  One, Elijah receives physical renewal.  He receives rest and sustenance at the hand of God.  Two, Elijah is in desperate need of relational renewal.  His protests reveal this...

            “The people have rejected (us)..., even putting the prophets to death with the sword, and now I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too!”  (1 Kings 19:10)

 

            He's saying in effect, “Everybody hates me, nobody loves me, I think I'll got eat some worms!” He's been burned one too many times, he claims, and wants to give up, but God knows what he needs. He needs relational renewal, among other things, so he connects him with a guy by the name of Elisha.  “After he left from there he met Elisha...and Elijah placed his cloak upon him.   (Later) Elisha arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.”  (1 Kings 19:19,21)   It was as if God said, “Elijah, meet Elisha.  Elisha, this is Elijah.   Elijah – Elisha; Elisha – Elijah!”   The two of them became a blessing one unto the other.  Elisha becomes a great source of encouragement and Elijah becomes his mentor. 

 

            Through that bond, God brought renewal to Elijah.  The father-son kind of relationship they formed also gave him a sense of purpose, a person to love on and pass on his legacy to.  That's one of the great gifts of being the church, thru Spirit-led relationships we're renewed thru a common sense of purpose.  We encourage one another and partner in reaching out to those at risk.   There's an awesome video on Facebook that dramatizes this as a man helps a dog at risk and others join the effort...

            [Facebook video of people helping dog...      ]

 

            Finally, God brings refreshment, clarity and inner healing through the Holy Spirit.  There is no more darker, lonelier place than feeling disconnected from God.  Dark thoughts often lead us to feeling as such.  So it was with Elijah, but then God showed up and spoke into his heart, not in a flash of light, or rattling earthquake, but in a voice as quiet as a whisper.  Why?  Because God wanted him to be still, to stop voicing his dark thoughts and shift his prayer from one of talking to one of listening. 

 

            Elijah's renewed vitality and clarity of perspective came as he stopped talking, shutting off the tape running in his head, and turning his inner ear to the Spirit of God.  What he heard, prompted him to get his gifts back in the game.  What he heard, was God quietly asking, 'What are you doing here?'

                                                                                                                                    (1 Kings 19:9,13)

                                                                                    -4-

 

            God is saying in effect, don't give up.  I have great things still for you to do, great things I will do through you.  But you have to keep moving as indeed I, your God, am on the move. 

 

            What are you doing here, in proverbial fear and anxiety when I have promised to be with you, to speak to you and through you?  Who can stand against you if I am totally for you?  My son, my daughter, you have so much to offer, so much yet to share, so much of my presence yet to experience! 

 

            My friends, don't give up!   If dark thoughts plague you listen for God's still voice, who may well ask you, What are you doing here?  Hardships will come, to be sure, but nothing can ever thwart my will and I assure you, as my servant Paul declared: “Neither life nor death, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any power, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!”   (Romans 8:38-9)   

 

            What else, I wonder, might God say, if we took the time to talk less and listen more?  Would you care to give it a go?  Shall we give him our ear?  Let's listen in, shall we...? 

Eager to Do Good

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Eager to Do Good                                                                                           Jamie Maciejewski

Titus 1:1-5; 2:1, 11-15; 3:1-15                                                                        11/25/2018

 

Last week as I was studying Paul's letter to Titus and preparing to share with you, a story popped into the news.  Maybe you saw it.  A few months ago, this woman ran out of gas late at night.  A homeless man saw her and gave her his last $20 for gas.  The woman was so grateful that she launched an online campaign to raise money to help him. 

 

It was a real feel-good story, and hundreds of people gave more than $400,000 to help him.  The only problem was, the story was completely made up.  Two weeks ago it came unraveled.  Turns out the woman, the homeless man, and the woman's boyfriend had gotten together and dreamed up a scam to prey on the hearts and wallets of people who were willing to help someone in need. 

 

It's a shame.  Something like this just fosters cynicism, and our world does not need any more cynicism than it already has.  And you and me – what do we learn from this story as we try to do good?

 

This morning we are reading from the Apostle Paul's letter to Titus.  Titus, like Timothy, was one of Paul's students in the faith.  Paul had mentored him over a number of years.  Now Paul has installed Titus as the interim pastor of a group of congregations on the island of Crete.  It's not an easy assignment, and he writes to give him some advice.

 

“Doing good” is a prominent theme in this little letter.  We're going to take a look at what Paul has to say to Titus about helping people learn to do good.  We're even going to ask what Paul might say to all the people who gave money to help a homeless man, only to find out they'd been scammed.

 

To do good.  It means to help someone in need.  Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles give quite a few examples.  They include raising children.  How many of you parents realize that you are doing good as you care for your kids?  Visiting and taking meals to the sick, the lonely, the hungry and homeless are examples of doing good.  Amy and George and company have made many sandwiches to hand out to hungry people in Port Townsend.  Jeff is coordinating a whole bunch of you to welcome and cook meals for the residents at the winter shelter.  Dave picks up the mail for Habitat, where I work. 

 

Another example of doing good is when Jesus tells his disciples to wash one another's feet.  That's pretty obscure to us today, but in Jesus' time it was a necessary and dirty job to clean the feet of guests in sandals, before they reclined to eat and stuck their feet right next to their neighbor's dinner plate.  I see so many of you doing jobs that could be considered washing feet.  Six teams take turns cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming carpets, mopping the kitchen, and taking out trash.  All of you who cook for Alpha and provide coffee hour goodies, and then clean up the dishes afterward – that is a foot washing example. 

 

Doing good is not flashy or sexy.  It's just doing what needs to be done, in very practical ways, to help someone who needs it.

 

Our actions show people whether our words mean anything.  Listen to this verse from the first chapter of Titus: “Such people claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live.  They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.” (Tit 1:16) 

 

Paul is describing religious people who claim to know God, but their actions show otherwise.  They may talk a good game, but they are worthless when it comes to doing good.  I am reminded of something attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Your actions speak so loudly, I can't hear what you are saying.”  Our actions, or laceof them, can totally cancel out what we say.  

 

So, strengthening our witness to Christ is one reason to do good.  Another reason Paul gives for ding good is that God is good, and we are to be like him.  “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” (Tit. 2:14)  This one verse contains the whole of the Good News.  Jesus gave his life for us.  He gave it.  For us.  To set us free, clean us up, and – here is the amazing part to me – make us his very own people!  Oh, how good God is!

 

Sometimes people think they need to be good in order to convince God to like them, to prove that they are worthy of his being good to them.  But this is the good news: We don't do good in order convince God to be good.  We do good because God is good!  Doing good is our response to God's being good.  God has made us his children, and he wants his kids to take after him.

 

But this isn't easy.  Let's read.  “Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.” (Tit. 3:3)  What Paul is saying is that we don't by nature do good.  In fact, that's the human condition.  We live among a lot of cranky people who are out for Number One.  Read that, “Sinners.”  As Paul would say, “of whom I am the worst.” 

 

Let's keep reading: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Tit. 3:4-5 NRSV)

 

God's goodness and loving kindness come to us, despite our broken and foolish condition.  God washed us up with the new birth and renewed us with the Holy Spirit.  When Jackie is plunged beneath the waters of baptism this morning, think of this picture of newness.  Helpless and undeserving as we all are, God brings us to birth.  We don't do good to others because they deserve it.  We do good because God is good to those who don't deserve it, me included.

 

Let's continue reading: “He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life."  This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.”   (Tit. 3:6-8 NLT)

 

I think God gave us each other, gave us the church, so that we can practice doing good to one another.  I won't say that it's easy.  In fact, sometimes it's downright hard, because the church is filled with people who wouldn't normally hang out together.  People whose only common denominator is Jesus.  I hope this doesn't come as a shock to anyone, but I can guarantee every single one of you that someone is sitting pretty nearby you this morning who voted differently than you did. Maybe even had a political yard sign that would have given you heartburn.

 

Sometimes I imagine how much easier it would be to attend a church where everyone shares the same views on the big issues that affect this country and world, where everyone votes basically the same as me and commiserates over the same things I do.  Don't tell me you haven't imagined how much simpler that would be!  I have!  But I can tell you that if you are attending a church like that, you are not attending a church.  You are attending a club.

 

God gave us one another so that we could practice love, practice doing good.  Remember what Jesus said?  “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

 

To love one another like God loves means that we “do good” to people regardless.  Regardless of whether they think like me.  Whether we like one another.  Whether someone deserves it.  We do good regardless of whether someone is grateful and kind, or cranky, foul-mouthed, and spiteful.  We do good because we are the children of a good God, who is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.

 

In fact, Jesus had something really important to say about that:

 

"If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!  And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.  Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.  You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Lk. 6:32-36 NLT)

 

Which brings us full circle back to our friends, the scammers.  God doesn't tell us to reserve doing good for the good, for the appreciative, for the deserving.  God is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 

 

Do good, because God is good.  Do good to those who don't deserve it, because God is good to those who don't deserve it.  Do good, because God wants his children to take after their Dad.

 

Be eager to do good.  Then, “your good deeds [will] shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt 5:16)   Will you pray with me?

“FAMOUS LAST WORDS ”

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NOVEMBER 18th, 2018                                                                               PASTOR DON PIEPER

MAIL FROM JAIL                                                                          2 Timothy 1:1-11;2:1-2,8-10

                                                                                                               / 3:1-5,14-17;4:1-9,21a,22

                                                “FAMOUS LAST WORDS ”                                      

                       

            Astrid's family sat around her bed as her life slipped away, leaning in close to catch every word she might utter. At one point, just a couple of hours before she died she gestured for me to come closer.  “Don, God is with you,” she said. “Serve him boldly..., and don't forget to floss.”   Those were her last words.  That was nearly thirty years ago and I still remember every word like it was spoken yesterday.  It inspired me.  I strive to live up to them, to serve Christ boldly, although I still struggle with flossing. 

 

            The phrase, “famous last words”, is more than a cliché.  When men and women of influence are about to die, we lean in, hoping to hear some final word of insight or wisdom or tenderness.  When people of acclaim utter such words, they are repeated and shared, and they become famous last words.

 

            I'm reading a book on Leonardo Da Vinci, who famously said as he died: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” President John Quincy Adams, said, as he lay dying, “This is the last of earth.  I am content.”   Soccer star George Best, dying of liver cancer, wrote a note he sent to the papers, that said, “Don't die like I did!”  Mozart famously said, “I feel something that is not of this earth.” And Steve Jobs merely said, “Oh Wow; Oh Wow; Oh Wow!” 

 

            So much attention has been given to these famous last words that some filmmakers have had some fun with it.  My favorite of these spoofs on the theme dates back to my teenage years, when a film about King Arthur and his knights hit the big screen...

            [DVD clip from the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail; 1:15:30 – 1:16:35]

 

            Okay, it obviously doesn't work quite like that!  But often, there truly is something profoundly significant about a person's last words.  That is certainly true of this final letter from the apostle Paul.  Written around 67 AD, some 2-4 years after his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes one final time to instruct and to encourage his spiritual son and protege.  He writes, he explains, while “suffering here in prison..., having been chained like a criminal.”  (2 Timothy 1:12,16; 2;9)

 

            The evidence suggests that Paul has been imprisoned a second time, that his first imprisonment under house arrest in Rome led to his being arraigned, released and returning to the mission field and that somewhere in that fourth mission trip, that apparently included visiting places like Macedonia, Crete, possibly Spain and certainly Ephesus, to which he again now writes, Paul was arrested again. 

 

            In his prior letter to Timothy he wrote of visiting Ephesus again but that has abruptly changed. As he puts it: “My life has already been poured out as an offering to God.  The time of my death is near...  I have finished the race.”  (2 Timothy 4:6-7)  Nothing subtle about that.  Paul has apparently received the death sentence from Rome's serving emperor, Nero, and so he takes quill to papyrus, and writes his beloved spiritual son one final time.  The letter he writes is by far the most personal of all his letters, filled with longing and fatherly love for his protege, and for the church he serves. 

 

            But more than that, even, these are Paul's final words of wisdom, affection and instruction.  It apparently not only powerfully spoke to Timothy, who must've read and re-read it, but to the whole church because here we have in our hands, his famous last words. 

            Paul's introduction expresses his tender love for Timothy, who he again refers to as his “dear son”, (1:2), adding, “I thank God for you” and “I long to see you again.”          (2 Timothy 1:3-4)

                                                                        -2-

                                   

            He then reminds Timothy of the qualities necessary for a faithful minister of Christ, the vitality of using one's gifts with boldness, the need to keep to the truth of the gospel, the call to equip the next generation, the challenge to be disciplined and willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel, the necessity of confronting apostasy, that is false teaching, and a reliance on the power of God's Word as he boldly proclaims the Good News of salvation in Christ with courage and conviction. 

 

            Paul's famous last words are timeless.  They are meant not only for Timothy, or for pastors that follow, but for the priesthood of all believers, as his final words clearly convey: “May the Lord be with your spirit and may his grace be with all of you!”  (2 Timothy 4:22)   It's meant for all of us/you!

 

            Paul's final moments draw nigh and we, with Timothy, lean in take in his famous last words. First, we glimpse Paul's vulnerability.  As he writes repeatedly and in earnest: “Timothy, I long to see you again... Please come as soon as you can!” (2 Timothy 1:4;4:9)

 

            I take from this a subtle insight.  None of us, even the apostle Paul, want to die alone.  Actor-comedian, John Belushi's last words point to the same: “Just don't leave me alone!” (John Belushi)              Freddie Mercury, in his last interview, likewise said, “You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man, and that is the most bitter type of loneliness.”  (Freddie Mercury) 

 

            Inadvertently, in his last dying request to have Timothy and Mark visit him, Paul spoke to a common human need as our lives come to an end – that we are loved and we are not alone. That's one reason Paul wrote this final letter – to urge Timothy to visit him.  Another main reason was to further encourage Timothy to keep his coal in the fire.  “Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you.”                                                                                                                             (2 Timothy 1:6)

            I read of boy with downs syndrome who was hired by a local grocery store.  It wasn't long before some customers complained that he was too slow, too clumsy or whatever but the management stuck with him.  One day a lady came in in tears.  She told the manager that someone had slipped a piece of paper in her bag with a Bible verse on it, a quote from Paul as it turns out.  She spoke of how hard life had been and how she'd been ready to throw in the towel, thinking that God had made a mis-take, when she read that note, “You are God's masterpiece.  He created you anew in Christ Jesus, so you could do the good things he planned for you long ago.”  (Ephesians 2:10) 

 

            Turns out, this “awkward” boy had been making scores of these little slips of paper and putting them in people's grocery bags as they went through checkout.  Pretty soon people began choosing his line and waiting in line, even when other checkers were open, in order to be blessed by his gift. 

 

            We've been so blessed by another tender heart in our midst for years.  Barbara Crow, in a similar spirit of humility, has worked behind the scenes loving on those God sent her way.  She has fanned her flame by singing in the choir, serving on council, heading up our pastoral care ministry and a host of other expressions of tenderhearted care for this body of Christ.  How we will miss you/her...! 

 

            A third insight in Paul's famous last words is his challenge to Timothy, and us, to “be ready to suffer...for the sake of the Good News.  Endure suffering, then, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”                                                                                                                              (2 Timothy 1:8; 2:3) 

            Paul assures us that we can do so “with the strength God provides.”  (1:8)  This challenge echoes that of Jesus himself, who urges his followers to, “pick up your cross and follow me!” 

                                                                                                                        (Mark 8:34)

                                                                        -3-

                       

            This doesn't mean we seek to suffer but rather that we're willing to do whatever God asks of us in order to share his good news with a cynical and unbelieving world, even if that means being mocked, laughed at, rejected, or worse.  We're able to do so as we keep our eyes on the prize and he assures us that those who suffer will receive an amazing reward: 'If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.' (2:12) And I saw the souls of those who'd suffered for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaim-ing the Word of God.  They all came to life again and reigned with Christ for a thousand years!”                                                                                                                               (Revelation 20:4)

            Paul goes on to urge Timothy to confront false teaching as it crops up and to counter it by teach-ing and preaching the truth of the good news.  Paul specifically warns Timothy, that “in the last days, there will be very difficult times.  Some teachers will oppose the truth – theirs is a counterfeit faith.  Evil people and imposters will flourish.  They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.”

                                                                                                                        (2 Timothy 3:1,8,13)

            From Paul's perspective, the time in between Jesus' first coming and his second coming are 'the last days', which of course, includes now as well as then.  Paul's coaching for such times is two-fold: one make sure you keep your faith fixed on Christ and the truth of his gospel message and two, counter the work of the enemy by leading others into the truth.  As Jesus said, “I am the truth!”   (John 14:6)

                                                                                                                       

            So Paul boldly declares: “I have been chained like a criminal, but the word of God cannot be chained!”  (2:9)  God's word is powerful, in other words.  It has the power to turn lives around, to give us God's perspective on things, to transform us from creatures of the night to children of light.  Among Paul's most memorable statements, in these his last famous words, are these: “the holy scriptures...give you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.  For all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives...  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work!”  (2 Timothy 3:15-17)   

 

            That's so rich and true and powerful its worth putting that 'famous last word' to memory!  These inspired words of Scripture may be ancient, but they are not archaic.  There be power in dem words! 

            “Tell the world for me!”  (p. 157)  /  “God, send someone!”  (p. 175)

            Finally, Paul urges Timothy to pass on what he has learned, to train and equip the next genera-tion to teach and equip the next generation.  “You have heard these things from me..., now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”  (2 Tim 2:2)

 

            We do that not only collectively as the Body of Christ, but also individually – passing on what we've learned to others – particularly those who come to faith around and through us. 

            The idea of passing on what we have learned to the next generation is conveyed in the closing scene to a sci-fi movie called, The Book of Eli. It’s an unnecessarily violent movie but it does have an interesting premise – of a man who is led by God to protect the last copy of the Bible.  Having memorized it, he dictates it and in his passing, his protege takes up the cause...

            [DVD clip from the film, The Book of Eli; 1:45:30 – 1:48:30]

           

            There has never been anyone like Paul – transformed by the grace of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, suffered for the sake of the gospel, and yet joyfully proclaimed Christ crucified and risen with undying courage and unshakeable conviction.   And then, before dying, he passed it on...!  

 

            Here in 2 Timothy we lean in to hear his famous last words – words that call each of us to stand courageously for the truth, fortified by the power of these inspired ancient words of scripture as we seek to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  And so, with great joy, we too joyfully pass it on! 

“THE LAST LAP”

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NOVEMBER 4TH, 2018                                                                              PASTOR DON PIEPER

MAIL FROM JAIL                                                                                      Philippians 2:12-13, 19-30;                                                                                                                                     3:1-14

                                                “THE LAST LAP

 

            Paul writes the church in Philippi urging them be of one mind in Christ and to encourage them “to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people.  Let your lives shine brightly before them.  Hold tightly to the word of life...!”     (Philippians 2:15-16)                                                                                                               

            Then, to further encourage them, he talks about sending them their mutual friends, Timothy & Epaphroditus.  Timothy is Paul's protege and Epaphroditus, a dear friend and a leader in Philippi. These two guys have served along side Paul, among other ways, as his traveling buddies.  Of Timothy, Paul writes: “Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News.”  (Phil 2:22) 

 

            And of Epaphroditus, Paul says, “He is a true brother, co-worker and fellow soldier. He risked his life for the work of Christ...”  (Phil. 2:25,30)  Timothy is like a son, Epaphroditus, a brother, and they have spent long hours on the road together as Paul's traveling buddies.  Can you imagine...?

            [DVD clip from the film, Brother Bear; Scene # 15; 44:15 – 45:02]

 

            I'm sure that's pretty much what it was like, traveling from city to city, with only local means of transportation available....   Okay, maybe not.  Fortunately, Paul's traveling buddies were a bit faster on the draw, as it were.  Paul's offer to send them to Philippi reveals not only his love and concern for his friends in Philippi but it also serves as a reminder of our partnering with one another.  If we're going to share the Good News of Jesus we need one another for prayer and personal support.

 

            Reading further we find Paul pausing to issue a warning - and typical of Paul he is not one to mince words.  He's been battling a group of Jewish-Christians who are saying that new converts to Christianity from non-Jewish background must be circumcised in order to enter the kingdom.  Paul sees this as a direct assault at the heart of the Christian faith.  It would mean that the cross of Christ was not sufficient.  That more is needed – that God needed a contingency plan. 

 

            Paul warns: “Watch out for those dogs, those wicked men and their evil deeds, those

mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved...  We put no confidence in human effort.  Instead, we boast about what Christ Jesus has done for us!”  (3:2-3)   

 

            Paul likens those who say circumcision is necessary for salvation to a pack of dogs.  Dogs in the ancient world, particularly those that traveled in groups, were a terrible nuisance.  Getting into garbage, spreading disease, nipping at horses and stalking the weak they had a terrible reputation.   Case in point - when Rome was invaded by the dreaded Gauls,  a small Garrison fought back atop famous Palatine Hill.  After many failed attempts at taking the hill, the Gauls sent an elite team of warriors up a sheer cliff protected by just a couple of soldiers, a bunch of geese and a few of man's best friends.  When the attack occurred the soldiers were lulled away and the geese sounded the alarm but only after the dogs failed to do so, having slept right through the entire attack! 

 

            Perhaps Paul had this famous story in mind when he calls these trouble makers, “dogs”.  He's saying they're untrustworthy at best and dangerously lethal at worst. 

 

            So Paul sounds the alarm, identities the perpetrators and then reminds his friends in Philippi: “We put no confidence in human effort.”  The tone sounds like that of a teacher in the class room. 

                                                                        -2-

 

            Paul reminds them they can't earn their way into heaven.  The human condition is terminally flawed.  When we arrive in heaven no excuse will do, no religious act will impress and no record of success will suffice.  We'll just need a pass with Jesus' signature on it.  Remember, Paul says, We put no confidence in human effort.  Instead, we boast about what Christ Jesus has done for us!  

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:2-3) 

            Then Paul adds, “I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me.  For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.”

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:9-10) 

            Paul lays his hope of salvation at Jesus feet and gets on with the business of really getting to know Christ.  Or as he put it earlier: 'Holding tightly to the word of life!' (2:16) Just as we get to know our human friends and family through their words and deeds so it is with us and Christ and nowhere do we have access to Jesus' words and deeds more reliably than in the New Testament! 

 

            Paul speaks of another way he interacts with Christ when he tells of how one can “experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.”  (3:10)  That's Holy Spirit talk!  Paul is noting how Jesus makes himself known not only thru the living word of life, the Bible, but also directly thru personal experiences of God's power!  It is the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and it is the power of the Holy Spirit by which Jesus is raising people up to new life today as well...!

            Paul speaks more of such things in his other letters.  Here he wants to bring to their attention the danger of this false teaching...  The belief that one has to do certain things to earn God's favor is the other side of the same coin by which we convince our selves that we can do it on our own, that we don't need God because our essential goodness will get us through...when the time comes. 

 

            In the same way, we have a hard time changing our behavior in terms of trusting Jesus.  We believe in him but when it comes to our day to day decisions and relationships we give him very little thought or bother to include him.  We pick and choose which commandments to obey or live a life style in which we've left no time for biblical reflection or prayer.  We believe...but we don't really trust. 

 

            How can we “really know Christ and experience his mighty power” as Paul did and speaks of?  How can we heed Paul's warning and avoid falling into old patterns of thinking and behaving that reflect not the love and grace of Christ Jesus but rather the brokenness of our all-too-human condition?

 

            The second half of Philippians 3 addresses such questions.  Paul writes: I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection!  But I keep pres-sing on toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.”

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:12)

            Paul models his humble recognition that he hasn't got it all figured out or worked out.  “No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be...” (3:13)  The world needs to see more of this side from us Christians.   Too often we come across as if we've arrived rather than a work in progress...

 

            Paul also shares his determination to “press on” - to persevere.  And note what, specifically, he seeks to persevere in – to be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be! Faith is an adventure of discovery, and those open to discovery, keep their eyes on the horizon!

                                                                       

 

                                                                        -3- 

 

            This is why Paul speaks of 'forgetting the past'.  He's often misunderstood here.  He's not saying that the past holds no meaning or is flippantly suggesting that those hurting should just get over it.  He's talking about breaking free from all that might hold us back, any thing that might hinder our focus on the prize – our coming to really know Christ and experiencing his mighty power!

                                                                       

            In High School I ran cross-country and long distance events in track.  Our coach regularly told us three things: 1) pace yourself, 2) keep your eyes on the horizon, and 3) never look back.  Looking back causes a runner to lose stride and focus.  Keeping one's eyes on the horizon helped one to antici-pate the finish line.  Keeping time there, the coach would yell encouraging things to me, especially as I got to the last lap.  By focusing on him, especially during that last lap, I was able to lay it all out...!

 

            Paul is saying, we're to approach life and faith as though we're on the last lap, ignoring the dis-tractions and hindrances behind us, while listening for the coach's encouragement with our eyes on the prize – finishing the race well as our coach welcomes us home with the words, well done faithful one!

 

            Some times, if we're honest, we get stuck in the past – in some unresolved pain, lie or longing.  It brings to mind a story in which evil lures its victims into reawakening old lies or pain.   It's a story about temptation, longing, discovery and transformation.  It's a story about the ultimate adventure as conveyed by a valiant mouse named Reepicheep..., who we find sings a song about what exists past the farthest point on the map, a land known as Aslan's Country, where you might find all that you seek...  

            [DVD clip from The Voyage of the Dawntreader; scene #4; 12:00-13:03]

 

            As this scene takes place early in the film you get the sense that Reepicheep, like the apostle Paul, has his eyes on the prize as he battles enemies from within and without. Of all the foes they battle it turns out that none is nearly so formidable as the enemy that lies within.  Lucy battles issues of ego and jealousy, Caspian struggles with regret and guilt, and Eustice has to become an actual dragon before he recognizes the dragon within.  It is the lies within that keep us stuck in the past.  No wonder Paul urges his friends in Philippi to forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead.   

 

            Clinging to the promise of the Gospel, knowing that the battle is temporary and the approaching joy is eternal, puts everything into perspective...granting the courage needed to go the distance...

            [DVD clip from The Voyage of the Dawntreader; 1:38:25 – 1:41:34 – freeze final frame]

 

            As Reepicheep lays down his sword he says, “I won't be needing this.”  The sword represents his battle not only against the forces of darkness but also against the darkness within.  It's a story about the ultimate adventure inspired by the greatest story ever told.   Like Paul, Reep keeps his focus on the prize – that prize being that he'll be “where the Lord Jesus Christ lives..., who'll take these weak mortal bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like his own...”  (3:20-21)

 

            God is calling you to greater things – in this life and in the one to come!   Christ is calling you to step out with great confidence and courage knowing that where he is, what he's blessing, where he's moving in power to bring his kingdom to life, is precisely where he's leading you...! 

            As Paul writes in his concluding remarks: “Think about things that are godly and worthy of praise.  Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds all understanding, and His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” 

                                                                                                            (Philippians 4:6-7) 

“LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!”

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OCTOBER 28th, 2018                                                                                   PASTOR DON PIEPER

MAIL FROM JAIL                                                                                      Philippians 1:1-13; 2:1-16a

 

                                    “LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!

 

            So..., you got some more mail from jail, I see...  Could be worse...    Could just be a letter you wrote to yourself – you know what I mean?  Could happen...!  

           

Calvin:                        Ah! I got the letter I wrote to myself! 

Hobbes:           You wrote a letter to yourself?  What did you write? 

Calvin:                        “Dear Calvin, Hi!  I'm writing this on Monday.  What day is it now?  How are things

                        going?  Your pal, Calvin.”     My past self is corresponding with my future self.

Hobbes:           Proof things are going from bad to worse.   Too bad you can't write back....  

Calvin:                        I got another letter from my past self. 

Hobbes:           What's it say?

Calvin:                        “Dear future Calvin, I wrote this several days before you will receive it.  You've done

                        things I haven't done.  You've seen things I haven't seen.  You know things I don't know.

                        You lucky dog!  Your pal, Calvin.    * Sniff *   I feel so sorry for myself two days ago.

Hobbes:           Poor him.  He wasn't you.                              (It's A Magical World, p. 18)

 

            So the weakness of writing yourself a letter of encouragement is not only that you can't write back..., but also that you're inclined to fill your ears with what you think you want to hear as opposed to what you need to hear.  That's what sets Paul's letters apart – he writes what we need to hear. 

            “I want you to understand what really matters.  I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  May you always be filled with the fruit of our salvation – the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ...!”

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 1:9-11)

            So Paul writes to encourage and instruct.  He wants them to understand what really matters – that they experience God's love so that they can reflect that love to others while they themselves keep growing in their intellectual as well as experiential knowledge of God, how God's understood in Christ

and in that understanding, which comes by relating to him, his character begins to glow within us...

 

            As in his other letters, Paul thus writes so that they'll really get it, what really matters.  But, as it were, he's also writing in response to a bit of a situation there in the Philippian church.  Apparently, a couple of the sisters have been going at it: “I appeal to Eodia and Syntyche: Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.   My dear partners, help these two women...”                                                                                                                                        (Philippians 4:2-3)

            So Paul writes in response to this discord in Philippi.  Admittedly, the church there was a really diverse community.  It's first members reflect this: a wealthy businesswomen, a slave girl and a Roman officer  - three individuals that came from three different ethnic backgrounds, three different levels of social status and three different ways of coming to faith.   Others that followed would only serve to widen that diversity as Philippi was a melting pot of Asian and European cultures and beliefs. 

 

            From the get go, this was a community highly challenged to be one in spirit and purpose!  So, already in chapter one, Paul addresses this: “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.  Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.”   (Philippians 1:27)

            That's fighting together not against each other.  That's a key distinction...!

 

                                                                       

 

-2-

 

            He longs to hear news of how they are fighting together for the faith.  And what is it that they are fighting against?  Paul makes it clear that the greatest threat is not that which will arise from outside of the community of faith, but from within it.   So he warns them of this imminent threat...

                                                                       

            “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)  Paul makes it clear, that what will do them in, as a family of faith, is the worldly mindset of thinking too often and too much of one's self. 

           

            Paul's clear, the Philippians' greatest battle wasn't the external circumstances of being Christian in a pagan, Roman colony, but with those internal attitudes of selfish motivation that destroy unity. Paul models an alternative. External circumstances didn't control his attitudes.  In spite of having being falsely accused, beaten, shipwrecked and chained to his captor, Paul continues to invest in others... 

 

            The remedy to this human affliction, Paul asserts, is that of seeking to embody and exhibit the selfless, humble attitude of Christ Jesus himself...: 

            “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to you own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.., who emptied himself, taking on the  very nature of a servant..., and humbled himself and became obedient, even to death on the cross.”

                                                                                                            (Philippians 2:3-8)

            Paul is saying the world has got it all wrong.  If you follow the lead of those around you, you will become so consumed with your self – with getting what YOU want when you want it - or angry when you don't, that you run the risk of gaining the world but losing your soul!  It's that kind of self-absorption that has led the world to the state it's in – with its widespread political corruption, pre-occupation with self-gratification, widespread addiction and the exploitation of our natural resources!

                                                                         

            Paul points to a better way, the remedy of having a totally different mindset, “let his mind be in you”, he declares.  At verse 6, Paul's prose suddenly shifts to measured cadences and poetic phrases, citing as he does, an early Christian hymn that focuses on Jesus' humility: “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges and took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  He humbled himself....”                                                                                                                              (Philippians 2:6-7)     

            Paul quotes the song to engage their hearts as well as their heads.  By following Jesus lead, by thinking less of ourselves and more of those in need, by humbly serving..., we can change the world!

 

            It's amazing how often this truth is reflected in the arts.  Hall of fame Bears running back, Gale Sayers, wrote a book entitled, I Am Third.   He explains, 'God is first, others second, I am third.'

            I went to a concert during my internship in which the band sang: “Take this message to my brother – you will find him everywhere, wherever people live together tied in poverty and despair.”

            While visiting my father we watched Evan Almighty, in which as a newly elected congressman, Evan, sets out to change the world.  God suggests he start with spontaneous acts of kindness...

            There's a YouTube video that shows people, in a variety of circumstances, doing just that...  

            [Play the “Liberty Mutual Paid Forward YouTube video...; 4:23]                                      

                                                                         

            It reflects Paul's inspired words: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  You should have Jesus' attitude!” (Philippians 2:3-5)

 

 

 

-3-

 

            How do we get there? We seek perspective. We risk transparency.  We open our minds to God and the reality of our need to change, and that change does not come by merely willing it. We need help. We need the kind of courage, comfort and compassion that comes from beyond.  We need His Spirit...!

 

            Paul's opening to chapter 2 points to this truth: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ..., if any comfort from his love..., if any fellowship with THE Spirit..., if any tenderness and compassion...be one in Spirit and purpose!”                                    (Philippians 2:1-2)

                                                                                                                       

            Paul goes beyond doing spontaneous acts of kindness he's talking about a whole new mindset and lifestyle.  As he later puts it, “Let your lives shine brightly before (this dark world of crooked and perverse people)!  Hold tightly to the word of life...!”  (2:15-16)

            For our light to shine...we have to have a clear conscience and a shiny soul!  The only way we can come by either one is by sticking close to Jesus –  the Word of Life living among us by His Spirit! 

 

            One of God's endearing qualities is that he sends messengers and role models to help us get it, to help us partner together in the quest of becoming living lanterns of God's grace and love! 

 

            I remember when I first got acquainted with Tom and Delphine. What a unique couple they were – so full of life and the love of the Lord.  He called her his “little Pollyanna”.  I was surprised she didn't take issue with that.  I'd always heard the name, 'Pollyanna', used in a derogatory manner... 

 

            But Delphine wasn't artificial.  She was the real McCoy.  Tom was constantly surprising her with spontaneous dinner guests and Delphine never failed to accommodate everyone with her usual graciousness and big, beaming smile.  She was the first one to sign up to help at the soup line and the last to leave, helping until the last chore was finished.  She did everything with unbridled enthusiasm and good humor.  The woman was always smiling at or encouraging someone! 

 

            Years later I finally saw the movie, Pollyanna, the tale of an orphan girl who comes to live with her controlling, joyless aunt, who is contributing to the unhappiness of other cheerless souls in town.  Among them is a man whose described as 'the meanest man in town'.  His is a frozen heart, it is that is, until he encounters the kindness of Christ...from this young child...

            [video clip from Pollyanna; 43:05 – 49:25]

 

            The child discovers the light around and within those around her, including a joyless, mean old man.  After the joy returns to his heart he spearheads an effort to help raise funds for a surgery that the injured child requires.   It's a multifaceted story in which the light of love pierces the darkness...

 

            Children of God reflect the goodness and kindness of God back into the hearts and lives of those around them, and they reflect that light by letting God shine thru them, by “holding tightly to the word of life” that God's voice may be ever in their ear, and His love eagerly shared.   

            Last Sunday, those of you who came to help with Crystal Reuther's memorial service did just that! As you worked to provide a safe, loving environment, complete with comfort food and spontaneous acts of kindness, Christ's love penetrated the darkness of their loss and pain, and you lit up the place! 

 

            We are called “to live innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people.  Let your lives shine brightly before them.  Hold tightly to the word of life...!”

 

            ...How bright is your light?                                                     (Philippians 2:15-16)

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Tale of Two Slaves

Tale of Two Slaves                                                                                          Jamie Maciejewski

Philemon 1-25                                                                                     October 21, 2018

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Sometimes when I read the Bible, I come across a passage that is truly beautiful and inspiring, but I struggle to grasp what it really means.  Maybe you have that experience sometimes, too.  Perhaps we don't fully understand it, or maybe what it's asking of us is very hard.  Either way, the beautiful passage stays stuck at the level of theory.

 

One example of this is 1 Corinthians 13, the exquisite passage on love.  It's often read at weddings.  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor 13:4-5 NRSV).  It makes our hearts sing!  And then it runs smack into reality.  All the many times I've been irritable or impatient with my husband, the countless times I've insisted on my own way these past 30 years... It's clear this passage too often gets stuck at the level of theory for me.

 

Another similarly inspiring passage Paul wrote talks about new life in Christ. “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Col. 3:11 NIV)

 

The words just soar!  No divisions, no distinctions.  Christ is all.  Christ is in all!  It's radical and inspiring!  It's also kind-of theoretical.  I mean, what does it mean, anyway?  Is Paul arguing to abolish all hierarchies of power in society?  All class distinctions? 

 

We are so fortunate the Holy Spirit made sure that the little book of Philemon was included in our scriptures.  In Philemon we hear a very real, very human, very messy story that works out those inspiring and somewhat theoretical words.  It's a story that helps us understand what Paul's theory looks like in real life.  We might say it's a story where the rubber of theology meets the messy road of life.

 

To really grasp this messiness, we need to back up and take a look at the institution of slavery in the first century Roman world.  As you might imagine, it's not a pretty picture.  Slavery is the economic engine of society.  Slaves fill every menial labor role you can think of.  Planting and picking crops, tending children, cooking food, digging ditches, tutoring students, scrubbing floors.  Agricultural laborers were treated especially badly; the stunted and deformed skeletons that have been found testify to serious malnutrition and cruel working conditions. 

 

One source writes, “Slaves were the lowest class of society and even freed criminals had more rights. Slaves had no rights at all... They could not create...families, nor could they own property... The entire Roman state and cultural apparatus was...built on the exploitation of one part of the population to provide for the other part.” (https://www.ancient.eu/article/629/slavery-in-the-roman-world/)  Slaves were property, plain and simple.  This is the backdrop to our text today.

 

The letter we read this morning is addressed to Philemon, a leading Christian in the city of Colossae. With his family, he hosts a church in his home.  Paul calls him a dear friend, coworker, brother and partner.  He describes Philemon as loving other Christians, refreshing the hearts of many believers, and trusting in Jesus.  And, Philemon is a slaveholder.  He owns at least one other human being.  It's quite likely he owns more than one. 

 

Onesimus is probably young.  He's the property of Philemon, and he's apparently run away from his master.  We also get the idea that he's somehow wronged Philemon; perhaps he stole from him or damaged some property when he escaped.

 

When he runs away, Onesimus winds up where Paul is and visits him in prison.  We don't know how he got there.  Maybe he went looking for Paul, since he knew he was a friend of his master's, hoping Paul would intervene on his behalf.  Maybe it was a Holy Spirit “accident!”  We don't know. 

 

Paul says Onesimus, whose name means “useful,” has become very useful to him.  Some writers suggest Onesimus is probably providing the imprisoned Paul with food and other help.  This may be true, but the way Paul writes, Onesimus means far more to him than simple practical help. 

 

One thing we know is that Onesimus gives his life to Christ as a result of Paul's influence.  Paul refers to him as “my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment” (v. 10).  

 

Paul's become a dad!  Paul doesn't say he is “like” a father.  He doesn't say he has “adopted” a child.  Paul says he has fathered Onesimus.  “Begotten” is the word.  Paul considers Onesimus his own flesh and blood.  He calls him “my own heart” (v. 12).  This enslaved young runaway has become very, very dear to Paul.

 

So it must be painful to both Paul and Onesimus to send him back to his master.  Runaway slaves have never been treated well.  Philemon has a right to punish him as he sees fit.  He can even sell him as a “worthless” slave, in which case any new master will know his history as a runaway and thief, and treat him accordingly.  His future may be quite harsh.

 

It's here that we find the intersection of theology and reality.  Paul swings into the role of advocate for Onesimus.  Paul stands on the side of this disobedient slave as he works out the meaning of there being “no longer slave or free.”

 

Listen to what Paul urges:  Welcome him back as you would welcome me – a much loved brother.  If he owes you anything, chalk it up to my account.  (Oh, by the way, Philemon, I don't need to remind you that you owe me your very self, do I?)  And do it from your heart, Philemon!  Don't do it grudgingly; don't do it because I tell you to.

 

Let's not pretend Paul is asking a small favor.  What he is asking is huge!  Put yourself in Philemon's shoes.  Onesimus is not his only slave.  If he forgives this one and doesn't hold him accountable, the social order in his household is likely to disintegrate.  What happens when his other slaves see you can get away with disobeying the master?  I predict a rash of conversions among Philemon's slaves, just so you can get set free!  This could conceivably lead to Philemon needing to release every slave he has.  The economic and social implications are enormous.

 

We don't know what Philemon's response to Paul's request is.  Does he ignore it? Get angry and tell Paul to butt out?  Or does he free Philemon? Maybe even send him back to continue helping Paul?  We don't know.  However, it seems a pretty good bet the letter wouldn't have survived to become part of our Bible if he had ripped it up and rejected it.

 

In the sermon title I promised you a tale of two slaves.  Let me introduce you to the second.  His name is Paul.  It's one of his favorite ways to refer to himself.

 

“From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God's good news.” (Rom. 1:1 CEB)  Paul knows he has been purchased by Jesus.  At a terrible price.  He belongs fully and solely to Christ, and in a number of places he calls himself a slave of Christ Jesus. 

 

One author says this: “...'slave' is a title of great humility; it expressed Paul's sense of personal insignificance, without rights of his own, having been purchased to belong to Christ.” (John Stott, Romans)

 

Paul is in good company.  The apostles Peter, James and Jude also refer to themselves as Christ's slaves.  Each one knew that Jesus meant for their lives to take the shape of their master's life.  And what shape was that?

 

“Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.  But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8 CEB)

 

Jesus came into our world in the form of a slave, to people who neither knew him or loved him. And Jesus asks us to be like him.  It's the call of every Christ-follower – to be a slave of Christ Jesus and servant of humans.

 

Paul, the slave of Christ Jesus, speaks to Philemon, his brother, a man he clearly loves.  He commends him for his love for Christ and the believers.  Now he urges him to see how much more good he can do by extending his Christian witness to the slave Onesimus.  Paul wants Philemon to see Onesimus with Kingdom-of-God eyes, a family member who is so important for kingdom purposes. 

 

Paul tells us: “Anyone who was a slave when they were called by the Lord has the status of being the Lord's free person.” That's Onesimus.  “In the same way, anyone who was a free person when they were called is Christ's slave.” That's Paul; that's Philemon; that's me.  (1 Cor. 7:22 CEB)

 

Jesus asks us to re-examine every relationship we have, every person we encounter, and see each one through a new set of glasses.  The clerk at the grocery store.  The lower-level employee at my job.  The workers who harvest the food we buy.  The custodian who cleans my child's school.  The flagger who stops my car. 

 

When we put on our new glasses, hierarchies and social divisions disappear.  Every single person is dear – either a much-loved family member, or else a person Jesus is just crazy to see become one.

 

The tale of our two slaves, Onesimus and Paul, is almost done, but not before a postscript!  It seems that about 40 years or so after Paul wrote this letter, the church in Ephesus had a leader whose name will sound familiar to you.  Bishop Onesimus served the Ephesian church around the turn to the second century.  No one can be certain if this is our Onesimus, but I love to think that it is. 

 

Bishop Onesimus would have been intimately involved in collecting the letters that became part of the New Testament.  Perhaps that is why, out of all the dozens and dozens of personal letters the Apostle Paul must have written, one in particular survived: the letter to Philemon.  All because Paul put on new glasses and chose to see one slave as a person valuable to Christ instead of someone on the lowest rung of society.

 

Oh, what a family we are a part of!  And, oh, what a Master we slaves have!  You are very dear to me, my sisters and brothers.