JUNE 17th, 2018                                                                                            PASTOR DON PIEPER

FATHER'S DAY                                                                                            2 Cor 1:1-2, 8-11;2:9-14

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      2 Cor 3:12,17-4:9, 15-18 

                                                            TRUE TREASURE


            In honor of Father's Day, we interupt our regularly scheduled sermon to bring you this...


Calvin:            Here's the latest poll on your standing as 'Dad'. 

Dad:                Wonderful.

Calvin:            The good news is that you have a high name recognition factor.  All the household six-

                        year-olds polled were able to identify you as 'Dad'.     This recognition, however, is link-

                        ed to the fact that your policies are universally deplored.  There's talk about voting you

                        out of office and making mom 'Dad'. 

Dad:                I see.   And what do YOU know about this?

Mom:               My first act will be to make you do the cooking.

Calvin:            Whoa!  That changes everything!                                                       (The Days...., p. 26)


            That puts things into perspective, doesn't it? 

            The Apostle Paul, the father of the churches he planted across Galatia, Asia, Greece and Macedonia, pulls out some papyrus and puts things into perspective for his family of faith down in the southern coastal city of Corinth.  Before we dig in, however, there are three things you need to know.


            First, Second Corinthians isn't Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth at all, its actually his fourth, written between 55-56 AD from up north in Macedonia, during Paul's third missionary trip. 

            How do we know it's his fourth letter? In 1 Corinthians, Paul makes reference to an earlier letter when he writes: “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.”  (1 Corinthians 5:9)   So First Corinthians is his second letter.  The first has been lost.


            And here in 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to a third letter, also lost.  “I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions (concerning the correction of 'the man causing trouble').”  (2 Cor. 2:5,9)  Clearly he's written since the second letter because the conflict he addresses is never mentioned in First Corinthians.  So this is actually Paul's fourth letter to them...


            Secondly, Paul writes to reaffirm his apostolic authority: “This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.”  (2 Cor 1:1)  And again: “I may seem to be boasting about the authority given to us by the Lord, but our authority builds you up..., so I will not be ashamed of using my (apostolic) authority.”            (1 Corinthians 10:8)

            Paul uses this authority to confront the false teachers in Corinth and to defend the mission he, Timothy and Titus have undertaken to collect a love offering for the impoverised Jerusalem church.  We'll hear more about this ministry of generosity next week. 


            The third thing you should know is that Paul's primary focus in writing this letter is to encour-age his siblings in Corinth by clarifying the church's sense of identity and purpose.  To do so, Paul unpacks the who, what, when, where and why of the church's mission.    Let's take a look...  


            First Who.  Who are you?  It's an identity question.  When Alice met the caterpillar in Wonder-land, he asked, Who are you?  The Wizard of Oz asked the same of Dorothy: Who are you?  It's at the heart of the Abbot and Costello baseball skit, in which, Costello wants to know: Who's on First?

            Join us at the Comedy Chimacum event Saturday and we'll try and figure that out! 



            Throughout his letters Paul repeatedly addresses that question: Who are we? Paul uses a number of metaphors to answer that.  We are God's family, an assembly of believers, the bride of Christ – we're Christ's ambassadors.  But above all, Paul says, we are the Body of Christ!  As he later writes to Rome: “We are Christ's body, with many parts, yet body, and we all belong to each other.”  (Romans 12:4)


            As Christ humbled himself by becoming one of us so too when His Spirit indwells us!  For “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.”  (2 Cor. 4:7)  In us Christ's Spirit dwells to continue his healing, transforming work in, among and through us.  That's who we are.  Mere clay jars, that's us!  But fragile containers though we may be, within us shines a great light, the very power of God, Jesus himself, life's greatest treasure! 


            Knowing that gives us boldness to take on the second question: What are we doing? As Paul wrote: “Shouldn't we expect far greater glory (than Moses) under the new Way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?   Since this new Way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold!”  (3:8, 12)


            So what are we to be doing?  What's our mission?  Paul repeatedly addresses this in his letters such as he does back in chapter two: “God is using us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.  Our lives are like a Christ-like fragrance..., but this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.”  (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)


            I officiated at a wedding in Kansas City once in which the flower girl was the four-year-old niece of the bride.  When no one was paying attention she got into her mother's purse.  In doing so she dropped her mother's bottle of expensive perfume on the floor and it broke.  To cover her tracks the little girl mopped it up with the white gloves she was wearing. 

            Later, as she made her way down the hallway leading to the church sanctuary, every head in the church turned – long before she or the bride appeared in the back as the aroma preceded them!

            That's us!  Notice that Paul puts the emphasis not on our words but our lives.  The way we live, they way we treat others, talk to them, listen to them, selflessly help others out, will turn heads and fill nostrils with the wonderful aroma of God's unconditional love and grace in Christ Jesus! 

            That's what we do!  We shine and we exude the fragrant essence of Jesus himself! 


            And when we catch resistence, what then?  Paul makes it clear that “this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom!”  (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)   How true!


            Many today feel the church gives off a stench! As one hurting woman put it: ”Church? Why would I want to go to church?  I feel bad enough already!”  But don't be put off or discouraged!  Paul points out that God looks for opportunities in such adversity to strengthen our faith and resolve...:

            “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia.  We were crushed and overwhelmed, but as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God, who raises the dead.”   (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)


            Paul speaks from recent experience.  Remember last week?  We read how a young man fell asleep during one of Paul's sermons, falling three stories to his death.  Talk about discouraging...!  But Paul saw in it an opportunity and so did the Spirit of Jesus, evident that when Paul embraced the young man, the breath of life, was breathed back into him.  Just as Jesus himself was raised from the dead, so was the young man and yet another moment of defeat was turned into victory! 



            During our mission trip to the Ukraine years ago the first day of the first week was a disaster.  As we were asked to share the highlights of the day everyone was quiet but when asked to share the challenges everyone started to speak at once.  That night Christopher, Donald and I huddled in prayer in the doorway of our room.  Moments later the hallway was filled with praying team members.  The next day there was a complete reversal.  Everyone couldn't wait to share what God was doing in their classes.   God had used the dark moment to teach us to rely on God who brings life from death! 


            Paul also speaks to the question of where – where are we going?  That's an easy one – wherever the Spirit leads us.  We talked about this last week and will again when we get into Paul's letter to the Romans, but suffice it to say, as we open ourselves to the Spirit's leading, Jesus himself leads us to be free – free of fear, free of doubt, free of guilt.  Where are we going?  We are going to be more like him!

            “The Lord (Jesus) is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom...for the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his image.”

                                                                                                                        (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

            That's where this path, The Way that is all about following Jesus, is taking us.   He is leading us on a path by which we become more and more like him, full of love, joy, peace, goodness, selfcontrol -

as we seek and experience more and more of his presence...He begins rubbing off on us!


            Finally, there's the question of why. Paul answers that one when he writes:“For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so that we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.”   (2 Corinthians 4:6)

            Why did Jesus become one of us, then die for us, only to embody us by filling us? Why does the church, the Body of Christ exist? Why?  So that the light of God that brings life may shine in our hearts changing us moment by moment, in order that all may come to know and experience the glory of God! 


            “God, in his mercy, has given us this new Way, so that we may never give up!”  (2 Cor 4:1)

            Reminiscent of this truth, the Lady Galadriel, asks her friend, Gandolf, a similar question during their conference in the house of Elrond.  She wants to know why he's taken the path he has, why he has risked it all by choosing these small, fragile clay jars....known as Hobbits.  Why the halflings? 

            [DVD clip from the film, The Hobbit; 1:41:35 – 1:42:40]


            “I have found that it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary (fragile) folk, that keeps the darkness at bay.  Simple acts of kindness and love.”  As God stirs within us the new way, a desire to live for his glory rather than our own, when he uses these fragile clay jars to do amazing things, he makes it clear that our power is not from ourselves, but from God, and this gives hope and courage! 


            Author, Bill Hybels, has referred to the church as the hope of the world.  That's a strange thing considering how fallen and flawed the church has been and continues to be.  But he was right; it's not because we are more right or more godly or more loved than others, but because the light of Christ's Spirit is profoundly and powerfully present therein – not a building, but a people, a frail, fragile group of halflings....who, by the grace of God, have come to be bearers of true treasure – Jesus! 


            “For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.  And we now have this light shining in our hearts, even though we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.  This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”   

(2 Cor. 4:6-7)    My dear fragile clay jars, bearers of great, true treasure, go light up the world! 




            As we're being knitted together as the Body of Christ, how can we help one another?  How can we support the efforts of our siblings being called into mission?  Paul writes: “You are helping us by praying for us.  Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for us and our safety.”  (2 Cor. 1:11)  Ari and the Manlys need our prayer.  Let's help them...


JUNE 10th, 2018                                                                                            PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      ACTS 20:1-6; 7-15


                                     PAUL'S  PARAKALEYSAS  PURPOSE


            It's Paul's third mission trip and he's all over the map.  His purpose is threefold: to spread the gospel, raise funds to the impoverished church and Jerusalem and to provide parakaleysas.   No, that's not some kind of form of illness or malady but a remedy for strengthening the church.   Check it out...


            “When the uproar was over,” (the uproar being the riot in Ephesus we read about last week), “Paul sent for the disciples (in Ephesus) to parakaleysas them.” (that is, to encourage them) “Then he said goodbye and left for Macedonia.  While there, he encouraged (parakaleysas) the believers in all the towns he passed through.  Then he traveled down to Greece...”  (Acts 20:1-2)


            So – we're sailing to Macedonia and Greece again!  Alrighty!  I came prepared...!   So are you ready...?  I must warn you, its a bit of whirlwind trip!  Luke doesn't pause to provide much info along the way.  I'll try to fill in the blanks as we go.   So leaving from Ephesus, we head north thru Asia Minor, to catch a boat out of Troas.  It was here that the Holy Spirit redir-ected Paul on his last trip, by way of a vision he had.  While in town, Paul shares his faith; as he soon writes, “When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me.”                                                                                                                                          (2 Corinthians 2:12)

            So sailing from Troas back to the seaport in Neapolis, Paul returns to Philippi.  It is there, that Paul writes a second letter to the church in Corinth and sends it on ahead with an amazing partner by the name of Titus. “After saying goodbye (to the church in Troas) I went on to Macedonia to find (Titus).” (2 Cor. 2:13)  Unlike his first letter, this one is a letter of paralalyesis, as we'll see next week. 


            From Philippi, Paul heads south to parakalysis the believers in Thessalonica before doing the same in Berea, Athens, and then finally in Corinth, where, Paul writes to the church in Rome. 


             Paul is eager to bring the offering that's been collected during this trip back to the struggling mother church in Jerusalem but catches wind of a plot to do him in and steal these vital funds.  “So he decided to return through Macedonia”, taking with him the bold traveling buddies we mentioned last week, friends who represent churches from across the mission field: three from Macedonia, three from Galatia and two from Asia. So back thru Berea, Thessalonica and Philippi we go!  There Paul sends his entourage ahead while he and Luke celebrate the Passover in Philippi before regrouping in Troas!


            From this point on the narrative is told in the first person plural as Luke, who was pastoring the church in Philippi, rejoins Paul in his travels.  “They waited for us at Troas where we stayed a week.”

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 20:5-6)

            After telling us about his third trip to Troas, which we'll get back to in a moment, Luke tells of how Paul pressed on to get to Jerusalem.  To do so he hoofed it to Assos alone while his traveling buddies sailed there, presumably so Paul could preach along the way.  From there they sailed together to Mitylene, the capital of the island of Lesbes.   “The next day we sailed past the island of Chios”, (Acts 20:15), where the famous poet Homer was born, before landing on the island of Samos, the birth-place of Pythagoras, the father of mathematics and geometry and then finally on to Miletus. 


            So the first half of Luke 20 reads like a sandwich.  The buns of the sandwich are Paul's travel itinerary and the meat is his extraordinary stay in Troas.  At the end of their week-long stay, Luke tells us, “we gathered with the local believers to break bread on the first day of the week.”  (Acts 20:7)



            Imagine the scene if you will. The believers in Troas have gathered to celebrate Holy Commun-ion with Paul and company.  The table has been set but Paul has so much to share that he keeps talking well past the dinner hour. The candles are flickering, stomachs are growling, eyelids are fluttering and there’s the unmistakable sound of someone snoring.  But does it phase Paul? No,…Luke reports simply that “Paul spoke on and on…” (20:9)  He was the energizer, preacher bunny of the first century! 


            It reminds me of an incident in which a man fainted in church.  The paramedics were called and quickly rushed to the scene.  As the report goes, they wound up carrying out five people before they found the man who’d fainted!    I understand that there was a certain Mr. Bean among them…          [*Mr. Bean, 18:45-20:30]


            Anyway, Paul talks so long that they’re dropping like flies.  So much to share and so little time.

But here's the thing, three of four key elements of early Christian worship are found here in Troas.  First and foremost is the proclamation of the Gospel.  To encourage the believers, Paul made sure they were being aptly fed on God's Word.   He knew that for them to grow in faith, they would need to digest, apply and be changed by the ancient words of scripture, just as we sang earlier this morning.


            As children of the Reformation, where Martin Luther pointed to the centrality of God's Word for faith and life, based on what he called sola scriptura, on God's Word alone, we place the reading and proclamation of God's Word at the center of our worship experience.  As Paul put it: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true... ”  (1 Timothy 3:17)   What's more, “This Good News is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day your first heard it and understood the truth about God's wonderful grace.”  (Colossians 1:6) 


            God's Word is Spirit breathed.  No wonder so many of you have told me at one point or another, 'Pastor Don, it felt like you were preaching directly to me this morning.'  That's not because my sermon that day was any better but because of what the Holy Spirit was doing in you!  Luther taught that what distinguishes a sermon from a lecture is that the Holy Spirit is at work at both ends, on both the sharing and on the receiving end!  No wonder Paul had a hard time stopping that night – the Spirit was moving, and most there were eating it up..., and being greatly encouraged!  Proclamation...brings  parakaleysis!


            A second key element of worship was the celebration of Holy Communion.  Luke reports that this was the primary reason they gathered.  “We gathered with the local believers to break bread...”

                                                                                                                                                (Acts 20:7)\

            It's the same expression used throughout the New Testament to describe this special meal of remembrance.  It began back at the birth of the church: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching, to fellowship, to sharing meals, including the breaking of the bread and prayer.”

                                                                                                                                                (Acts 2:42)

            Breaking bread was the first idiom for communion.  Luke clarifies this a couple of verses later: “They worshipped together each day, (celebrating) the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God...!”  (Acts 2:47-47)

            Why is Communion so vital to Christian worship?  Why do we do it – and why do we do it so often?  Primarily, because Jesus told us to.  “Do this is in remembrance of me,” he said.  (Luke 22:19) 


            Here we are reminded at what cost God has set us free from the penalty of sin thru faith in him.   Here we're reminded that the Father has held nothing back, not even his beloved son, so that we may know, not just in our heads, but in our hearts, in the depth of our being,how deeply loved we really are!



            What's more, we do it because Jesus said he is personally present when we do so.  “Take and eat,” , he said,  “this is my body!  Take and drink; this is my blood!”  (Matthew 26:26-27)


            Here, Jesus says, this is me!  Once, at an Alpha retreat a guest told me she had a vision of Jesus during the breaking of the bread.  It was here during Communion that Matt Baker experienced healing. 


            Here, we relive the power of his love, of his grace, of being utterly, completely forgiven. In this way, we experience his very presence!  In this way, we let him in, and he gets into our system!  In this way, proclamation and Holy Communion bring paraleysis!  And we are encouraged...! 


            A third element of early Christian worship was singing praises to God.  I can't help but wonder why Luke didn't include it in this text. Maybe its because Paul got so carried away in his preaching that he forgot...or maybe like me, Luke had such a poor singing voice he glossed it over.  Either way, we know from Paul's writings that singing praise opens our hearts like few things can.  As he put it: “Keep being filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God in Jesus' name.” 

                                                                                                                                    (Ephesians 5:18-20)

            Clearly singing praise is instrumental, so to speak, to Christian worship.  And notice how Paul connects it to being filled with the Holy Spirit. That's why when we invite the Holy Spirit we always do it in the context of hearing or singing praise music; it lifts our human spirit to receive the Holy Spirit! 


            That brings us to the other element of Paul's ministry of parakleysis and Christian worship – a demonstration of the Spirit's presence and power!  Here we find Jesus making good on his promise to his disciples: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done and even greater works, because I am going to my Father. I'll ask the Father, and He'll give you another parakleytos (helper), who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”                                                                                                                                             (John 14:12, 15-17)

            First, not only does the raising of Eutychus reveal Paul having the same power as did Peter, and Jesus before them, the power to raise the dead back to life, but it fulfills Jesus' promise. And that power that same Holy Spirit lives within us – within you!  Jesus clearly says, anyone who believes in me will do the same works!  Anyone includes you and me!  Jesus has entrusted this power to us – today! 


            Second, is the striking similarity between the Greek words, parakelysis, translated encourage-ment and parakleytos, (helper)!  After Paul, thru his faith in Jesus, provides a profound demonstration of the Holy Spirit's presence and power at their worship by raising young Eutychus back to life, by holding him in his arms no less, we're given a recap of the evening's events encompassing all the elements of their worship experience. 

            “They all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord's Supper, and ate together.  Paul continued preaching until dawn, and the young man...was alive – and everyone was greatly parakleytheysan!”                                                                                                                            (Acts 20:11-13) 

            How encouraging!  You think?!  Actually, Luke uses a little tongue in cheek expression.  The translation literally reads: “And everyone was more than moderately encouraged!”  I bet they were!


            And so can we be!  Jesus is in the proclamation of the ancient words of Scripture and the distri-bution of his body and blood, and in any and every demonstration of the Spirit's presence and power!  When we invited the Spirit to fill us recently young Robby sensed God's presence in a powerful way, while on the other side of the room Chris Wilson did too, so much that she didn't want it to stop. 



            Nearby Ginger saw an image of Anne Louise being annointed just as Anne Louise felt water running down her open hands, as she was anointed.   When she placed her hands on Nicky's neck the pain went away and complete mobility returned!  Other's experienced God's love for them/others.


            Now that we're all together, early and late worshippers under one roof, like those in Troas anti-cipating celebrating Communion and the sharing of a meal, and having feasted upon the ancient words of Scripture shall we lean in together for a fresh demonstration of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit?  If it was good enough for Paul and Luke, Gaius and Eutychus, why shouldn't it be so for us? 


            Let's pray: Come parakleytos, come Holy Spirit, and fill us with fresh parakaleysis, that we, like the saints of old..., may be strengthened and encouraged in and by your presence, oh Lord...!  


JUNE 3", 2018                                                                                               PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                   ACTS 19:20-31; 19:32-20:1


After taking 3 weeks to read from the letter Paul wrote from Ephesus to the church in Corinth

we_ return now to our regularly-s-cheduled program, walking in-Paul's-footprints. But-as-we-return-to his
third missionary trip, Paul isn't actually walking anywhere. In fact, Luke barely mentions Paul at all! Instead, Luke tells us of a riot in Ephesus in which Paul's role is little more than that of a bystander.

One can't help but wonder why this story is even included. What's the point? As I prayed about this, four things came to mind, each connected by a single thread — a theme that reappears again and again throughout Paul's ministry. It's mentioned for the sixth time in verse twenty-three: "About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning The Way." (Acts 19:23) It reflects back to something Jesus said about himself to his disciples: "I am the Way, the truth and the life!"

(John 14:6)

By referring to themselves as followers of The Way, they were affirming Jesus' claim as the source of life, in this life as well as in the next. The term also reveals how they viewed the church — not as a building or an institution but as a movement. 'The Way' implied that a person wasn't just a believer but a follower of Jesus. The Way was distinct from the world. To be on the Way meant a movement of being, to change from one form into another, from one world view to another. As Paul put it, "Do

not conform any longer to the patterns of this world but be transformed...!" (Romans 12:2)

In Acts 19 we are shown at least four facets to this life of faith known as the Way! The first is found in the transitional section: "Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. 'And after that,' he said, 'I must go on to Rome.'" (Acts 19:21)

With this verse Luke affirms one of Paul's primary teachings in his letters, that to follow Jesus, to live a life of faith on the Way, one learns to be led by His Spirit. Paul, as we saw in his letter to the Galatians, puts it this way: "Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.., for since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit's leading in every part of our lives." (Galatians 5:16, 25)

Paul is doing just that as he seeks to discern where to go or what to do next. The Spirit compels him to go back to Greece and later to Rome. I must go on to Rome, he says. The word 'must' conveys a sense of being compelled. What might God be compelling you to do...? He compels me in the form of inner nudges, by bringing someone to mind or an inclination to do something.

Last week I was making a phone call to someone I'd asked to sign the guest sheet when I got a strong nudge to call someone whose name I didn't recognize. As she answered the phone I got another nudge to ask if there was anything I could pray for. She responded as if to say, how'd you know, and told me of the hardships she's been facing. Later we got together and she told me how a friend had told her to be patient. God was going to help her reconnect by sending someone her way. I marveled at it all and chuckled at God's timing. She was waiting at the carwash when I'd called.

A second facet of following the Way is that of a legal, moral precedent, found in the context as well as the content of Luke's telling of the riot in Ephesus. Luke informs us that those who're making mucho moola selling silver souvenirs of the pagan goddess, Artemis, whose temple was one of the seven wonders of the world and hostess to scores of pagans and tourists, aren't pulling in the same lucrative profit after Paul preaches that the pagan god of fertility is no god at all but a mere chunk of metal. So the silver guild start a riot and their grievances wind up before the mayor.



I reminds me of our experience down in Redding... Fearless in their love of Jesus and inspired by their confidence in the presence of the Holy Spirit, Redding is reveling. We witnessed this in action when we went out to eat at a pizza cafe. A group of young people were talking & laughing one moment and-in the next they circled around one of_the guys,_laid harids_on him and prayed. One_of_them_made eye-contact with me and then came over to share with me why and what they're doing!

I see that kind of thing happening here! Filled with Jesus' love for the disconnected and growing in confidence of the presence and the gifts of the Holy Spirit we can and will have a God-sized impact

That brings us to the fourth facet of the Way found here in Acts 19 - that of Paul's courageous, powerful partners. Twice in this story alone Luke names some of Paul's partners in the gospel. First, "Paul sent his two assistants (partners), Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia..." (Acts 19:22)

Later Luke mentions two more: "Gains and Aristarchus were Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia..." (19:29) Erastus was a leader of the church in Corinth and is returning to his home church but the others are Paul's traveling buddies. "Several men were traveling with him. They were Sopater from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Therbe; Timothy (Paul's protege), (Luke the book's author) and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia."

(Acts 20:4)

Luke records their names because they matter! These guys were committed not only to Jesus and his gospel, but to each other. These weren't half-hearted acquantances — they were all-in! No won­der Paul's last letters are full of inpassioned pleas for others to also live in an all-in, covenant-bonds of loving, trusting relationships with one another. Over and over he urges them to be kind to each other, encourage one another, pray for one another, help one another, love one another, bear one another up...

As Paul will later write to this very church in which all this took place: "Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace."

(Ephesians 4:2-3)

Every time Paul used the words each other or one another he was talking about the committed, covenantal relationships within the church family of which the Christ-follower was a part. The refer­ence to binding yourselves together is one taken from the bondage of slavery or inprisonment, in which two people were physically chained to one another. It was a metaphor for living life in community, in life and death kind of partnerships, where one knew that the other had his or her back.

In the film, "The Fellowship of the Ring", nine individuals form a bond out of a common sense of purpose, each articulating a commitment to one another to see that purpose, their mission, achieved. [DVD clip from the film, The Fellowship of the Ring; 1:31:35 — 1:33:28]

Where are we going? That's the beauty of the Fellowship of the King of Kings. He invites us to belong even before we believe. We come to find the way even though we as yet may not know the way but as we come to know the Way, the Truth and the Life that is Jesus, he places us in a partnership with others, who are also learning to walk in the Spirit; that thru us, the Spirit may have such an impact as to change our lives, and the lives of those around us, as we enter all in, to the fellowship of the King!

I invite you to put that to prayer, and to find ways of expressing that, not only in words, but in actions, by making events others are putting themselves out there a priority, finding new ways of living in a way, The Way, that honors Jesus by honoring one another as we learn to walk in the Spirit...!

I pity the fool!

Sermon 05272018 "I pity the fool!" By ED!

Where we've been - where we are.

2nd missionary journey over, Paul is back in Syrian


We read, today, from 1st Corinthians, which we

believe Paul wrote from Ephesus during his last


Paul addresses the church in Corinth because of their silly, foolish ways.

They have the Spirit, but they also have the world.

We hear Paul discuss the "foolishness" of the Gospel.

The message of the cross

Foolishness to those perishing

Power of God to us who are being saved

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the

intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

1 Corinthians 1:19 / Isaiah 29:14

Where is:

the wise person?

the teacher of the law?

the philosopher of this age?

God has made foolish the wisdom of the world.

since the world did not know Him,

God used foolish preaching to save the believer

The Gospel is foolish

to Greeks

a god-man who dies?

this is not a myth,(Hercules), it's real?

to Jews

they waited for Messiah




Jesus - not what they expected

not a conqueror

Dies on a cross? Deut 21:22-23 (curse)

The world has it's own wisdom,

Jews demand signs

Greeks look for worldly wisdom

We preach Christ crucified.

a stumbling block to Jews and

foolishness to Gentiles,

but to us who have been called,

Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

power - God's raising Him from the dead, Death not

able to hold Him. God showing His domination over all.

Wisdom - God's plan which puts all other plans,

thought, etc... to flight.

This argument is a blow to human pride. The pride the Jews had in their closeness, the pride the Greeks had in their philosophy and wisdom is destroyed by God's action. He chooses Jesus, His Son, and His philosophy is one of sacrifice and suffering.

Jesus is the center of our work, ministry and life.

and so; "we preach Christ crucified" 1 Cor 1:23

God turns everything upside down.

The world, and its values





God shames all of this.

"wisdom" is conquered by "foolishness".

"strength" by "weakness"

"influence" and "greatness" by "meekness" and





God sets a new pattern in the world

Pride and boasting (which comes from pride) are


We boast only about what God has done.

We can't even boast about our part in all this

Jesus did it all





all from Him. His work accomplished at the

center of the foolishness - the cross.

Paul demonstrates this pattern with the Corinthian

church by his approach

not by his skill at debating (Athens)

not by his knowledge of the scriptures, (student of

Gamaliel, well read, a rabbi)

not by wisdom

or anything else

He knew only Christ and Him crucified.

that's the power of God.

God has His own wisdom
it's eternal
no beginning
no end

When we speak of the good news, some may ask...

this was 2000 years ago, how relevant is this?

who cares? What does this story have to do with me? What can a dead(?)guy 2000 years ago have to do with me?

Our issues are timeless and universal.

our problems, fundamentally, are the same as those

of Paul's time.

we worry about meaning in our lives

our place in the world

our family




our future

we have sin that

eats us up, or

we suppress, we don't think about (or try not

to) .

we also have this sense that things aren't right.

Conversely, we believe that we have it all together. We have a handle on things. The Corinthians believed that they had a grasp on the Christian life, but based on their divisions, they didn't. :-Paul comments to them in chapter 3:

"Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere human beings?" 1 Corinthians 3:1-4

They are spiritually immature, not realizing, or filled with the truth.

We believe (and the Bible says), the truth.

Paul notes that in Jesus is everything that is

necessary for life. He states that:':,

Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Cor 1:24b

Like today, even then the news was countercultural.

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;




God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

God chose the lowly things of this world and the

despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

1 Cor 1:27-29

Shoe experience.

Although our shoe exercise is a trivial example, what it revealed was our self centeredness, our arrogance, and pride. It also showed our own vulnerabilities, our fear - fear of rejection, of failure, of falling behind the crowd, of not being good enough. *

"Perfect love drives out all fear." 1 John 4:18

Love precludes boasting, an offshoot, an offspring of pride. Our boasting is only in the Lord. In His work, in Him. *

None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Cor 2:8

The message of the cross is counterintuitive, counter to all we know, against "common sense".

This message, what God wants us to know, comes to us through the Holy Spirit. *

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 1 Cor 2:12

The message is that God has done and is doing a new thing. He repairs relationships, between us and Him, and so our relationships with each other can also be




repaired. This happened then, happens now and will happen at the end of all things. The whole of creation is to be made new when "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

The Corinthians were operating in the mode of the world, we are called to be in the world, not of the world. ':2Paul called on the church in Rome to not, "be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Romans 12:2

Shoe experience part 2.

We learned that the focus of our work, the attainment of our goal had to be subordinated to our relationships with each other. Once our relationship existed in a strong way, only then could we proceed to accomplish our task with hope of success.

Similarly, the Corinthian church, still operating under the old rules, couldn't break away from their old habits and the old model of society.

"there is neither Jew nor Gentile man nor woman, slave

nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus."

Galatians 3:28

The church even more so than the world can break away from this thinking, we have the Spirit.

At Alpha we eat together, talk together and learn about

one another.   (Discuss)

Retreat - love. The Spirit at work. His power.

Shortly we will share a meal, a "foretaste of the feast to come" at the end of all things. Together, as the body of Christ, we come here to the altar to eat and drink forgiveness of sins and unity. Holy Communion is




also the community of the Holy, those whom Jesus has called and made righteous through His blood. In this letter Paul explains it to the Church. Pastor Don will say Paul's very words.

Means of grace.


MAY 13th, 2018                                                                                                  PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                           1 COR. 1:1-9; 3:1-9,21-3


When I was young, my family went to a magic show. The 'magician' performed all kinds of amazing acts — mending broken objects, making things disappear, pulling scarves and rodents out of thin air. My siblings and I were astonished. 'How does he do it?' we asked ourselves. Always eager to help, I suggested he perform the disappearing trick on my sister, but my parents nixed the idea.

As Paul traveled the ancient world, he pointed to Jesus as he who brings the kingdom of heaven to earth by mending broken people, making fear of death disappear and pulling the very best out of the worst by transforming lives from the inside out... But how does he do it? If Jesus came to change the world one wounded, wayward heart at a time, how does that happen?

Sometimes, he does so miraculously, in the twinkling of an eye, but more often than not, he leads us in ways that bring growth, ways that require our willing cooperation in a more relational, daily way. In doing so, Jesus leads us down a path that deals with the inner disease of constant disconnection from God, not just its symptoms. As Jesus taught, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me will produce much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

So how do we change into the people God intends for us to be? How do we come to more closely resemble the one whom we claim to be following? That was the problem that some of the leaders of the church in Corinth, like Chloe and Sosthenes, brought to Paul while he was in Ephesus.

Sosthenes, as you recall, was one of the first Christian converts in Corinth. A former leader of the local synagogue, he's so eager for Paul to respond that he has come in person, serving as Paul's secretary as Paul dictates his response. "This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes." (1 Corinthians 1:1) Sosthenes role as Paul's recording secretary is made clear in that Paul concludes the letter in his own handwriting. "Here is my greeting in my own handwriting — Paul. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus." (1 Cor 16:21)

Chloe was another leader of the church in Corinth, evidence of the leading role women played in the early church. Paul's letter is written in response to her sending a delegation from the church meet­ing in her home. "Some members of Chloe's household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters." (1 Corinthians 1:11)

In response , Paul initiates this Corinthian correspondence to address areas of concern that are compromising their unity, witness and spiritual growth. In short, they've been backsliding, evident in their bickering whether they're following Peter, Paul or Apollos, in their sexual immorality, their spiritual syncretism, their watered down worship and their infighting over whose spiritual gifts are best. Instead of living lives that distinguish them from a world drowning in sin they seem to be sinking along with it!

They're more chameleon than Christian! It brings to mind the story Nicky Gumbel tells on the Alpha Course of a young officer, taking his final exam at the police academy in London...



'You are on patrol when an explosion occurs in a nearby street. On investigation you discover an overturned van nearby. Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. The man and woman inside are both injured. You recognize the woman as the wife of your supervisor. A passerby offers to help and you realize that he is a man wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly a man runs out of a house, shouting that his wife has gone into labor. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into the river and cannot swim. Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act, describe in a few words what actions you

would take.'              The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen, and wrote: "I would take off my
uniform and mingle with the crowd."
That is, he chose the path of a human chameleon.

Based on this letter Paul wrote during his three years in Ephesus, I can only imagine the distressed report Sosthenes and Chloe must've given. Some were living changed lives but so many others had seriously backslid. Some were compromising their faith by indulging in sexual sin. You can almost hear the Corinthians defending themselves: "What's wrong with it? Everyone else is doing it!"

Others are saying that belief in the resurrection is unrealistic and irrelevant. Still others claim that real Christians speak in tongues or came to faith thru Apollos. Remember him...?

So it is that the apostle Paul offers some clarity. "My job was to plant the seed, Apollos' job was to water it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow. The ones who do the planting and the watering aren't important, but God is important because he is the one who makes the seed grow. We work together as partners who belong to God. You are God's field, God's building, not ours." (3:6-9)

How do people change? God causes the growth! Only God can grow us into who he intended

US to be. You may say, 'Well, if God causes the growth, why doesn't He just do            The answer is this:
we have to be willing. As Jesus asked a crippled man,
"Do you want to get well?" (John 5:6)

Paul makes it clear that we do have a role to play. We're God's coworkers in this growth. If you plant sweet corn in your garden you don't cause it to grow, but if you don't create the right environment with fertile soil, ample sunlight and water, you won't be eating any corn on the cob any time soon. The same is true for spiritual growth. We cannot overcome bad habits, hardened hearts, self-destructive habits or addictions by ourselves, but we can create the right environment where God can cause the growth. We have two roles to play :1) creating the right environment, and 2) by putting intentional practices in place that allow God to grow us up. "God will do this, for He is faithful to do what He says and He's invited you into partnership with His Son, Jesus..." (1 Corinthians 1:9)

Ever use the auto pilot on your car? I do! Just ask my family. I don't know how many times my car takes over and steers me in the direction I'm used to going. "Dad, where are you going?"

Some times are lives are like that. We live so much out of habit. We have a hard time curing ourselves of bad habits because they've become so ingrained through repetition. We automatically drink too much or respond with anger or impatience or superiority. We respond....by habit. That was the trap the Corinthians were in. As Paul wrote: "You are still being controlled by your sinful nature!"




The key, by the way, to overcoming bad habits is not trying harder. Rather, we must start with our core beliefs if we're to overcome our autopilot responses. Our core beliefs are not intellectual. They're experiential, formed by our experiences in the past. So how do we break free?

It begins by reflecting on our bad habits and the self-perceptions that fuel them. Our habits are formed by our actions which emerge from our beliefs. It all starts with what we believe, not just about God, but about ourselves. As David put it: "Search me, 0 God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23)

If our beliefs are in line with reality according to the truth of the gospel, our beliefs will lead us toward freedom. But our stated beliefs are not always our actual or core beliefs. The way to discover what we actually believe is to look at what we actually do: our habits. At one point Jesus asks a rather disturbing question about habits. He asks, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what say?" (Luke 6:46) It's not what we claim to believe but what we do that reveals our deeply held beliefs.

[DVD clip from the film, Batman Returns; I 6! QC21.                  2c-

It's not what we claim to believe, but what we do that reveals our most deeply held beliefs. So we ask His Spirit to reveal lies we believe that keep leading us in habitual, broken patterns of behavior,

and to replace those lies with His Truth. Paul articulates three truth gems in his Corinthian correspond­,

dence:1 1) God made you holy by means of Christ Jesus; 2) God has invited you into partnership with -

(his Son; 3) It is God who will bring the growth. (1 Corinthians 1:2, 9; 3:6)

Jesus is your partner in making you holy, freed to have habits that reflect that truth, trusting every step of the way that God's loving grace makes you. holy ps He grows you into his Christ-like child'


During my college years, I lived for a year with ten other guys in a house we named, 'Rehab', short for rehabilitation as the house, at one point, had been condemned. It was a scary experience on multiple fronts, not the least of which being the refrigerator. No one threw anything out! At one point someone's girl friend broke down and cleaned it out. I think it was the survival instinct that won out!

We all have moldy, stinking lies that God's Spirit wants to help us clean out. Lies that stay hidden have a power over us. Things brought into the light of God's truth can be conquered and the resulting freedom of living in the truth is exhilarating! A number of you are powerful witnesses to this: Tim, Karin, Amy, Sheri.... Each set free by the Spirit of Truth through prayer ministry...

Paul is clear. "You are God's field! What=s-important-is-that-God-makesthe-seed-growl" (1 Corinthians 3:9) God is looking to do a new thing in you, to grow in you the best you possible, a new creation, (as Paul puts it elsewhere), a you that never loses sight of God's goodness, alive and growing in the fruit of the Spirit, growing day by day, more and more, into the very likeness of Christ himself!


MAY 6th, 2018                                                                                                       PASTOR DON PIEPER

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS                                                                              ACTS 18:18-28;19:1-12,18-20

May 6_Saint_Paul_Ananias_Sight_WEB.jpg


After a year and a half in Corinth, Paul 'sets sail for Syria...stopping first at the port of Ephesus.' (Acts 18:18) Sounds like I need to get my sailing shirt on again! There we go...!

After reasoning a bit with the Ephesian Jews, Paul "set sail from Ephesus, stopping at the port of Caesarea, before heading up to visit the church at Jerusalem and on to his home church in Antioch." (Acts 18:21-22) This then took Paul full circle, ending his second mission trip, right where it began...

But before you know it, Paul is back on the road again! Sounds like a song cue...! His third and final mission trip begins where his second trip began, back in Galatia: "After spending some time in Antioch, Paul went back through Galatia and Phrygia, visiting and strengthening all the believers there." (Acts 18:23) After encouraging the churches he planted years earlier, "Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus..." (Acts 19:1)

So first, Paul came to Ephesus by sea, then second, by land. Apparently it was a Paul Revere kind of expedition —two by sea, one by land. What's more, Paul is intent on keeping his promise. In the spirit of General MacArthur and Arnold Schwartzneggar, Paul promised, "I'll be back...!" And so he is!

Luke's account here in Acts 18-19 presents us with four fun facts. First fun fact: Paul's travels introduce us to some rather colorful characters and amazing partners in the gospel. Consider Apollos.

He reminds of the contrast between Melanie's first ski lesson and mine. Hers was with a ski in­structor. Mine involved a friend taking me to the top of Mole Mountain (in Wisconsin) where he told me, 'Keep your skies parallel, your knees bent and have a good time!' And with that he gave me a push! On the way down I knocked down a small boy, a ski patrol, three plastic penguins and single handedly took out everyone using the tow rope! Not bad for a beginner, huh?

I'd learned just enough to make me truly dangerous! That's my impression of Apollos. He's a Jew from Alexandria, home of the greatest library in the ancient world. Apollos himself is well read, esp in scripture and yet his knowledge is limited about Jesus. Luke tells us that he's an eloquent speaker, eagerly telling others about Jesus, but unfortunately he's fairly ignorant about Jesus' resurrection and his promised to fill his followers with His Spirit, the Holy Spirit. So Paul's friends, Priscilla & Aquilla, pull Apollos aside and "explain to him the way of God more accurately!" (Acts 18:26)

So on one hand you got Apollos, an eager beaver of an evangelist, excitedly telling others about Jesus, but knowing enough, or not enough..., to make him truly dangerous. Then there's Aquilla and Priscilla, this amazing couple, who are always mentioned together, and who go around helping other believers get it right and quietly supporting the evangelistic efforts of others — of Apollos and Paul!

So fact one, Paul's got some colorful friends, revealing how God uses friends from a distance as well as those up close and personal, both older and younger, singles and couples, to further his plan!



Second fun fact: traveling in Paul's footprints takes us to some pretty exotic places. Ephesus was one of most impressive cities of the ancient world. Home to one of the ancient seven wonders of the world, the temple of Artemis, it was also the capital of Asian, thanks to a decree by Caesar Augustus.

Ephesus was the second largest city in the east, second only to Alexandria, the home of Apollos and another of the seven wonders, its lighthouse. Ephesus was home to heroes and emperors, bath houses, gymnasiums, palaces, stoas, an expansive aqueduct system and hundreds of temples and altars to various gods — all giving ongoing witness to the depth and range of the city's influence and affluence.

No wonder Ephesus was the focus of Paul's final mission trip! It was a bustling city of culture and cash! You could buy anything there. If in Rome the mob rules then in Ephesus the consumer rules, a culture in which image and prestige were the top commodities. Sound familiar? Calvin illustrates...

Calvin:             I wish my shirt had a log or a product on it. A good shirt turns the wearer into a walking corporate billboard! It says to the world, 'My identity is so wrapped up in what I buy that I paid the company to advertise its products!'

Hobbes:           You'd admit that?

Calvin:             Oh sure. Endorsing products is the American way to express individuality. (p. 136)

Like Calvin, we're buying into a mindset that our identity is wrapped up in what we buy. And in this consumer culture of ours, the prevalent mindset is that as you can pick and choose what's best for you off the shelf, you can pick and choose what's best for you in terms of spirituality as well. Like ancient Ephesus, with its freedom of religions and plurality of beliefs, our culture is like a spiritual smorgasbord! That's the third fun fact: Acts 19 addresses the same kind of issues we have today.

We pick and choose from the buffet line of spiritual beliefs and practices, living by the credo of the day: "Whatever works for you." It's called syncretism. It sounds logical but it certainly isn't biblical, for in doing so, we wind up playing God, deciding for ourselves what's best for us rather than trusting in God's Word and loving will for our lives. As the Sons of Scerva in Ephesus discovered, there are greater powers than we mere mortals at work in the world, and above them all is Jesus, king of kings.

Syncretism and consumerism even influences how we do church. "You can find it in liberal churches where miracles are explained away from a scientific worldview, whose sub-culture more and more resembles the culture around it, preaching a gospel of justice as opposed to submission to the will of God and the transformation of lives. You can find it in conservative churches as well where people hop from church to church, seeking to have their personal needs met rather than working to better the church and thus behaving as consumers on a private quest for what will serve them best." (R Richardson)

It brings to mind the story of a man marooned on an island. When the rescue team arrived they found three huts on the beach. They were told that the first was his home. And the second? Oh, that's my church. And the third hut? Oh, well, that's where I used to go to church!



Many of us don't even realize how we're buying into consumerism... So how can we overcome it? First, admit where you've been guilty of it - on being more focused on what you're getting out of it then what you can contribute. Second, seek biblical clarity and an appetite for what God wants.

That's the fourth fun fact in Acts 19: Jesus' followers, like Paul, are always looking to help others make up what's missing. So it is that Paul asks: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" (Act 19:2) It's what's missing among the believers in Ephesus, and among many believers today! This is evident in their response: "We haven't even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!" (Acts 19:2) (Apollos!!)

And so Paul steps forward and offers to help them receive what they are lacking. He lays his hands on them, prays for them to be filled, and Luke records the response: "The Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied." (Acts 19:6)

Now some of you are thinking, 'how exciting'! And others are thinking, 'how creepy'! Doesn't sound very Lutheran to me! Some years ago we had four guests from a Lutheran church in Bremerton join us for Alpha. At the retreat, one of them said, 'Pastor Don, I didn't experience anything supernatural but I sure do sense something exciting happening here. I've never felt such a presence of the Holy Spirit!'

Sounds supernatural to me — as the Spirit is! Now there was no hocus-pocus or mystical hand gestures. We simply opened our hearts and let God know we were willing to receive. We simply invited the Holy Spirit to come — and he did! And as people were filled some were moved to tears as they felt God's love for them, others were healed, some had divine insights and some spoke or sang in tongues.

It was not at all unlike what Luke describes here in Acts 19. If we're to do what Jesus called us to do, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, body and soul - and our neighbors as ourselves, if we're to overcome this me-centered epidemic that is at loose in the world around and within us, we need to reclaim the Spirit's power to transform lives from the inside out! We need it and Jesus offers it!

I read an interview in which Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Toni Morrison, was asked why she'd become a writer, what books she read, what method she'd used to structure her writing. Toni laughed and said, "Oh, no, that's not why I am a writer. I'm a writer because when I was a little girl and walked into a room where my father was sitting, his eyes would light up. He'd ask me to share something of myself. That is why I am a writer. I write to see my father's eyes light up!" (Toni Morrison)

I imagine her father's eyes lit up because of how he delighted in her. So it is with your Heavenly Father who delights in you, and when you seek him out, walk into his presence, his eyes light up! What if, by His very Spirit, His love could light you up as well — alter your perspective, your priorities, fill you with a joy in knowing him and being known by him that you found yourself living in order to share it?

Have you ever felt like there has to be more to life than 9 to 5 living, more than living from Fri­day to Friday? Have you ever wondered if God wants more for you? Following his lead in Ephesus Paul writes, "fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands." (2 Timothy 1:6) "How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:3)

Holy Hearts



Holy Hearts                                                                         Jamie Maciejewski

1 Thess 3:12-4:12; 5:12-28                                               4/28/2018

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the list of things you need to

accomplish? Our readings this morning feel a bit that way. Where to begin to tackle the long list of advice that Paul offers the believers in Thessalonica? But the Christian life is not a self-improvement program.

Paul is talking about something far more sweeping than a list of do's and don'ts. Paul is talking about becoming holy, about becoming like God. When God gives his laws to the Israelites, he frequently punctuates his commands with one overarching command. "Be holy, because I am holy." Be like me!

For us who follow Jesus, holiness stakes a claim on every single aspect of our lives. It touches what we do and don't do. What we think and say and want. Holiness touches our relationships and our sexuality, the way we worship and how we spend our money. Holiness is the marker that God himself lives in  us.

Paul begins today's readings with a prayer for the Thessalonians. "May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones." (1 Thess. 3:13 NIV)

What does it mean to be holy, anyway? Someone who is holy belongs to God. They are "set apart" for God. Holy doesn't just apply to a special class of Christians who follow God with extra special devotion. If you are a Christ-follower, then God has already made you holy. When Jesus made his home in you, he set you apart as holy. God does that so nobody can boast that they made themselves holy through their own self-improvement program.

"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord."' (1 Cor.



So if God makes us holy, why does Paul launch into a whole list of do's and don'ts, some of which seem really difficult?

I heard a radio preacher recently who was talking about the parable of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus's command to love our neighbor. He said that Jesus's expectation of loving someone who is hard to love is just way too difficult. Nobody, he said, can love another person the way Jesus wants us to love. He pretty much concluded, so why try? Just ask God to forgive you.

It's kind of an interesting argument. We know we are going to fall short, no matter how hard we try. So let's just ask Jesus to forgive us and be grateful for grace.

There's a problem with that line of thinking, though. Jesus never let people off the hook from doing what he said. He didn't say, I know this is way too hard and you'll never be able to do this, so just ask me to forgive you and we'll call it good.

No. Jesus said, If you love me, you'll do what I tell you. (Jn 14:15) Paul's pretty much in the same camp.

"As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus." (1 Thess. 4:1-2 NIV) Paul's got instructions from Jesus, and he expects people to follow them.

Paul continues. "It is God's will that you should be sanctified." (1 Th 4:3a) That word—sanctified—means to make holy. God wants us to be holy, set apart from our former lives and the culture at large. Remember, the Thessalonians hadn't grown up as God-worshippers. They came out of a culture that bears a lot of similarities to our own, where people worshipped a lot of different gods, followed what seemed right to them.


"It is God's will that you should be sanctified" that culture isn't your identity any longer. And then Paul immediately begins with the instructions. Just like Jesus, Paul delivers some pretty tough words. He begins with one of the hardest. "Avoid sexual immorality." (4:3b)

I wonder what that radio preacher would have counseled people? "We can never live up to God's standard, so don't worry about it. Just ask Jesus to forgive you." But Paul doesn't seem to allow for any wiggle room. He spends a significant amount of time focusing on it.

I wondered as I was studying this passage, why is Paul so worked up about sex anyway? Why not greed or hatred or pride? Why not racism? Why not things that really hurt other people, instead of something that happens in private between two people who are just trying to make more love in what sometimes seems like a loveless world?

It's a good question. Why get so worked up about sex?

There's a couple of things that are helpful for us to know if we want to answer that question. The first one is that Paul was carrying a letter when he first visited Thessalonica with the gospel. We talked about that letter a few weeks ago. It was a letter from the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. A letter written to answer a weighty question: did non-Jews (like the Thessalonians) have to become Jews before they could become Christians? This question had become increasingly sticky as more and more non-Jews came to believe in Jesus.

The letter said No. Non-Jews didn't need to become Jews first. However, there were a couple of other things they did need to do—essential things, they were called. And one of those essentials was to "abstain from sexual immorality." (1 Cor 15:29) They put these essentials in the letter and sent it off with Paul, so that he could share it with all the churches that were springing up in non-Jewish places. Places like Thessalonica. When Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the "instructions" he gave them when he was with them, he was probably referring to this letter from Jerusalem.


So, it's not likely that Paul, all by himself, is so worked up about sex. It's coming from the church leaders on high! Which might let Paul off the hook. But it doesn't answer why those church leaders thought avoiding sexual immorality was so important—more so than all those other issues that appear to cause a lot more problems than sex.

This brings us to the second thing we need to know if we want to understand why Paul was so insistent about avoiding sexual immorality. It has to do with some old guys Paul hung out with. Guys with names like Ezekiel and Jeremiah and Hosea, guys who lived centuries before Paul. Guys who preached a lot about sexual immorality.

Oh great, you are thinking. First you want to compare standards for sexual behavior today with 2,000 years ago. Now, you're want to go even further back. How is that even a little bit relevant?

What would you say if I told you that these Old Testament prophets mostly weren't talking about sex at all? Weren't talking about people cheating on their spouses, or sleeping around, or living with someone they weren't married to?

What if I told you they were talking about people cheating on God? Sleeping around on God? What if I told you they were talking about God loving someone so deeply he marries them, and then those people throw it all away for a sexier god? Throwing it away for gods that promise a good time and a fresh rush of passion?

Those prophets were downright embarrasing in the comparisons they made. Israel runs off after her lovers like a wild donkey in heat, sniffing the desert wind to catch the scent of a mate. (Jer 2:24) Lies down with legs spread wide to entice a new lover. (Eze 16:25) Lusts after lovers whose genitals compare to those of donkeys and horses. (Eze 23:20) In one really painful instance, God actually tells the prophet Hosea to marry a woman who was sexually unfaithful, just so Hosea could experience the kind of pain God does when Israel is unfaithful to God. As a result of his experience, Hosea's preaching is some of the most poignant and painful of all, because he understands what it


is to be a rejected lover.

Hosea says, "Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: 'There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. My people consult a wooden idol, and a diviner's rod speaks to them. A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God."' (Hos. 4:1-2,12 NIV)

That word "prostitution" is the same one as "sexual immorality" in this morning's reading.

Paul was steeped in the writings of the prophets, and as a result he

understood how important it is to cultivate habits that strengthen a holy heart. Paul wants us to cherish our status as the beloved of the Lord, those set aside by God. Developing robust habits of sexual fidelity and purity in our human relationships spills over to our relationship with God. Sexual faithfulness and purity strengthen our hearts to be faithful and pure toward God.

Did you notice how Hosea referred to the "spirit of prostitution"? Paul reminds us that God has given us his Holy Spirit. They can't live together!

This is why Paul is so insistent. "God's will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin." (1 Thess. 4:3 NLT) You may be waiting for me to say what sexual immorality is. I think the best way to define it is with an ear to the prophets. They likened God to a husband is passionately in love, and God's people to the beloved bride. Love like that calls for complete devotion and faithfulness. It is still the same for us today, 21' Century Christians though we be. Complete faithfulness of intimate sexual expression, celebrated within the bond of marriage.

That's a challenging standard, and it isn't much accepted by our culture. If we were to try to define sexual morality based on the culture, we'd probably say things like these: Sex is important to healthy relationships. No cheating. Marriage is a nice aspiration for some. Sex before marriage keeps you from


rushing into commitments before you're ready and ensures you're sexually compatible.

They sound wise. They sound loving. And they fall short of God's standards. Although normal in our culture, they fail to honor God's requirement that sexual intimacy belongs inside the covenant of marriage.

It is not easy for us Christians to live faithfully in our culture. Every day, and most definitely in the case of sexual faithfulness, we are asked to go against the grain. Sometimes it might feels like the cost is just too great. We may be tempted to go with that radio preacher's view and say, "Wow, that is way too hard, so I'm just going to have to ask Jesus to forgive me."

My brothers and sisters in Christ, holiness is the marker that God himself  lives in us. Holiness is the result of God's exclusive and loving claim on us, his people, and of our response to him of loving obedience.

God doesn't leave us to walk this difficult path of holiness alone. God gives us his Holy Spirit. Did you notice that word, holy? God puts his Holy Spirit in us, and the Holy Spirit replaces the spirit Hosea referred to as a spirit of prostitution, the spirit, we might say, of sexual unfaithfulness and immorality.

God also gives us one another. The intimacy of our Christian friendships can be even richer than sexual intimacy. King David said the friendship he shared with Jonathan was deeper than sexual love with women. My husband just cannot take the place of the deep friendships I share with a handful of sisters. Marriage and sexual intimacy are not the be-all, end-all.

Nevertheless, I will not sugar coat it. Being single while walking a holy road can be very lonely. Those of us who are married must not allow ourselves to forget that, or to abandon our single sisters and brothers to go it alone. This is so important! I have single friends who've told me how much it means that their married friends include them. Years ago a couple I knew invited me and a few other single friends over on Sunday afternoons just to hang out. It felt like we were family. Those were some of the richest friendships I ever experienced, coming as they did at a time in my life when I wasn't dating



Perhaps it's why, in this morning's reading, Paul makes such a point of encouraging the Thessalonians to love each other more and more.

Friends, let's pray with Paul, for God to strengthen our hearts in holiness. God has claimed us as his dearly beloved. As we respond to him in loving obedience, our hearts become stronger in the habit of holiness.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit,k soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thess 5:23-24)

"Faith, Hope and Love"

Sermon 04222018

"Faith, Hope and Love"

We pick up Paul on his Second Missionary Journey. We saw how the Holy Spirit commanded him and his party to go to Macedonia and do the lord's work there. We saw and heard from Pastor Don about the founding of the first European churches.

Leaves Thessalonica for Athens and discusses/debates with the Athenians. Leaves Athens for Corinth. This is where we were last week, and are today.

1 Thessalonians was probably written from Corinth during the 18 months Paul spent there. (clues from Acts 18:1,5 and the T letter.)

Written probably between 51-52 AD.

I really love this letter. Paul usually writes to correct some issue in the church. If you read his letter to the Galatian church, you see that they have gotten it all wrong, and Paul is firm with them, in order to put them on the right track. Later Paul will write a letter to the church in Corinth where he is now. That too will be a letter correcting some problems in the church.

This letter to the Thessalonian church, and especially the reading today, is full of love and caring. Although he has to educate them about some matters, the tone of the letter is much more joyous.


I believe that this is why...

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah," he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.




But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd... As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.

Acts 17:1-5, 10a

Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures

Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica for three weeks!

Naturally Paul was worried what kind of faith, what level of knowledge could be transmitted in three weeks!

Alaska - 3 weeks...
Alpha - 10 weeks...

We learn from this that their faith and firmness is testament to God's solid work in conversion. God's got this and no one can thwart Him. When He's got you, He's got you.

Jesus says, *I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:28

These are words we can hang on to!

Paul's letter today opens by noting God's love for the Thessalonians*

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God,

He points out God's choice, God's call on their lives*

that he has chosen you,

Paul describes signs of the working out of God's plan of salvation among them. *

The Gospel caine to them*
Not simply with words*
With power*




With the Holy Spirit*

With conviction

These are signs that they were chosen by God. (Explain)

They came with words, but also with God's power to convert, and to convict. Convict of sin (individual sins) and our sinfulness. Done with the Holy Spirit, who is the agent of change in our lives, and who often comes with visible signs.

Paul notes responses to the Gospel by the Thessalonian believers. These are signs of the working out of the Gospel among them.

Paul remembers their: *

Work produced by faith*

Labor prompted by love*

Endurance inspired by hope in Christ. *

As a result, they imitated Paul and his companions. *

They imitated the Lord! *

They welcomed the message Paul had for them*

In spite of severe suffering. *

They did so with joy. *

Given by the Holy Spirit. *

They became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.

As Jesus traveled, He did good works, miraculous works, which served as signs that He was and is God. Only God does the things that Jesus does.

As we see the Holy Spirit's work in people's lives, we see evidence of God's action in the believer's life. People change. It's evident.

We've talked a lot about bringing the Good News to others as we've followed Paul's footsteps.



Pastor Don initiated this two weeks ago as he discussed the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection. He answered the question "How Do You Know?" by pointing to the truth, the overwhelming evidence of Gospel truth. Of lives changed then and now.

Last week we learned to not be afraid, to "Speak Out", because God is involved in our efforts to spread the Good News.

I remember a pastor I had in Texas used to speak of "divine appointments", that is where God has a meeting for you and someone else in order to do God's work. Pastor Al used to encourage us to pray for these divine appointments and for the readiness to carry out God's work.

Over the past couple weeks, Pastor Don encouraged us to believe and tell the Good News. It's God's work and He will equip us to do that work. As we tell, God's work becomes evident.

In the church at Thessalonica, Paul saw evidence of God's action in the believers. He saw faith in their works. Although we don't know specifically what those works were, they shown clearly to Paul.

He saw the love they had, which was evident in their labor. This could only be the work that they did for one another and for the people around them. God's love shows no more powerfully as when self-centered materialistic people (like we were) become loving, giving, caring people. I'm sure that's what Paul saw.

Paul saw God's action in the hope that the believers had, that hope which is marked by endurance. Patience and perseverance are also similar words to describe how we are when God works in us.

Dr. Thomas Croskery notes in his analysis of this scripture:

(1)   The three graces are fundamental... by a sort of moral analysis, it can be shown that faith, hope, and love lie at the foundation, or enter into the composition, of all other Christian graces whatever. (By three graces, he is talking about Faith, Love and Hope...)

(2)   They are three inseparable graces. Faith always works by love, and love is inseparable from hope, for* "hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost" (Romans 5:5). Faith is the




necessary root, as hope and love are its unfailing fruits. As faith works by love, it is also the substance of things hoped for.

(3)  They are at once the defense and the adornment of Christian life. * "Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation" (1 Thessalonians 5:8).

(4)  They are the abiding principles of Christian life: * "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three" (1 Corinthians 13:13). They do not die with death; for in eternity the Church will 'be made perfect in love, as it will ever continue to trust in the Lord, and hope for new developments of truth and new disclosures of blessedness. (The Pulpit Commentary - Homiletics - 1 Thessalonians, General Editors: H. D. M. Spence, Joseph S. Exell, Funk & Wagnalls, 1909 - 1919)

The good doctor points to the practicality of these "graces" in everyday life.

Bottom line: God is designing and building a character in each of us. He constructs faith, love and hope and their offspring: good works and labor done for others, a focus on other people and their needs, patience, perseverance and endurance in our own lives as hallmarks of that character.

In a short three weeks, marked by turmoil and God's power, Paul planted the seeds of Godly character in the Thessalonian church.

What can God do here?