When Circumstances Get in the Way of Life

When Circumstances Get in the Way of Life          

Jamie Maciejewski

Acts 24:1-27

                                                                             August 12, 2018



What do we do when life is upended? When we find ourselves on a detour?  In this morning's reading that's exactly what's happened with our good friend, the Apostle Paul.  Unfairly accused and locked up in Herod's palace, Paul has been waylaid from the important work God has for him. 


He's not the only person who has ever experienced something like that.  Circumstances regularly get in the way of life.  A broken relationship.  The loss of a job.  A diagnosis we don't expect.  A divorce we don't want. Unjust accusations.  Failure to achieve something we've worked hard at.  These are the kind of things that can break a person.


How do you deal with detours like these?  Paul must have been deeply disappointed by the detour he found himself on.  Locked away, unable to do God's work – for more than two years!  How do you cope with this kind of disappointment without losing it, lashing out, or becoming depressed?


Here is the answer: Paul learned to trust God with the detours.  He knew that detours are part of the journey, and how we travel them matters.  In our text this morning, Paul shows us three things that are important when you find yourself on a detour:


One, don't take shortcuts.  Two, treat people as people, not as obstacles.  Three, take advantage of rest stops.  Let's look at these one at a time.


First, don't take shortcuts. 


Two weeks ago my son Nathaniel and I were in downtown Seattle on a Friday afternoon.  We began heading home at 3:00.  Did I say it's a Friday?  In late July?  Yes, a nightmare.  We couldn't get near the ferry terminal.  We head toward I-5 to drive around.  Nathaniel navigates with his cell phone.  There's an accident on the James Street on-ramp, he says, so we head south through side streets, construction, congestion, you get the idea.  We're finally on the freeway, heading for Tacoma and the Narrows Bridge.  By now traffic is building.  Everyone wants out of town.  Accidents are popping up everywhere on Nathaniel's phone.  Let's take Highway 99, he says; it looks clear.  Sounds like a good shortcut.  Two and a half hours later, we arrive in Fife, still a long way from the Narrows Bridge.  A nightmare.


Okay, that's not the same kind of shortcut we're talking about with Paul, but it's every bit as tempting and problematic.  The shortcuts Paul warns us against are the ones that compromise our morals.  Don't do it! he says.  Maintain your integrity. 


Paul says, “Because of this [my hope in God], I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.” (Acts 24:16)  Paul had plenty of chances while he was locked up to get out, but those chances involved some moral compromises.  We're told that good old Governor Felix “hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him.” (Acts 24:26)


It's not that hard to justify a bribe as okay, a means that is justified by the ends.  After all, what good to God is Paul in prison, anyway?  Surely the churches would help Paul come up with the money, just to get him back to work for the gospel.  You could almost consider it like paying bail! 


Paul sees things differently.  He lives his life in a way that says no ends, no matter how high and lofty, justify a shortcut that is unethical, immoral, or otherwise contrary to who God is.


When Jesus was hungry in the wilderness, he was tempted to turn a stone into bread.  When he was in Gethsemane, he could have called in companies of angels to rescue him from the cross.  He didn't do it.  If Jesus doesn't take shortcuts, he wouldn't want us to, either. 


Detours are part of the journey, and how we travel them matters.  Don't take shortcuts.


The second thing Paul shows us is to treat people as people, not as obstacles. 


We need to view the people in our path as those who have been put there by God.  They are not obstacles to go around.  And they are not objects for us to manipulate to get us out of our circumstances. 


Regardless of how difficult or unhelpful or grouchy someone is, regardless of how they treat or mistreat us, every single person we encounter is someone made in God's image. They are those for whom Christ died, and therefore they are worthy of our time, our prayers, and our most carefully chosen words and actions. 


Paul had every right to see Tertullus the attorney as an obstacle.  Tertullus twisted the truth and said awful things about Paul.  “We have found this man to be a troublemaker who is constantly stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the cult known as the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5)  Tertullus wanted to lock Paul up and throw away the key.  Paul's response?  He cheerfully shares the gospel with everyone there, Tertullus included. (Acts 24:10)


Paul would be well within his rights to view Felix the governor as an obstacle, too.  After all, Felix caves to Paul's accusers and keeps Paul locked up without deciding his case for two years!  Instead of being angry at him, Paul hangs out with him! 


A few days later Felix came back with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus.  As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. "Go away for now," he replied. "When it is more convenient, I'll call for you again." (Acts 24:24-25)


Paul shares his story of how Christ met him and listens to Felix's story.  In fact, Paul comes to know Felix so well and speak to him so personally that Felix gets pretty uncomfortable – Paul chooses his words so carefully that they hit home. 


Paul teaches us to see people as people, not as obstacles to go around, not as objects to use for our own needs.  When you are on a detour, that can be hard to do.  Most of the time, detours take a lot of our energy.  We find ourselves very focused on our own problems, and it's hard to pay attention to the needs of others.


My friend Karen has been going over to Seattle for medical treatments for many years now.   She has every right to focus on herself and her own needs, and to view the medical professionals as people who are there to serve her.  But I have been struck over and over by how she sees those professionals as real people, people who get tired and sometimes discouraged.  She takes time to listen to the nurse who is having a bad day, to people whose kids might be giving them heartaches or who are having troubles in their marriages. 


Karen's attitude even extends to the people who ride the bus.  I remember her sharing about one rider who tearfully told her how frightened she was because she had just been diagnosed with her own serious disease.  Turns out it's the same disease Karen has been living with for more than a decade.  Karen took time just to listen and reassure the woman she was not alone. 


Treat people as people and not as obstacles.  And finally, take advantage of the rest stops.  When you find yourself on a detour, the rest stops are especially important.  You might not realize how tiring it is to drive unfamiliar roads until you actually take a break and get out of the car.  And then you feel it.  It's the same way with life.  What makes a detour a detour is its unfamiliarity, which can make it especially tiring.


We read in our text that Felix allows Paul's friends to care for his needs.  Asking for and receiving help is hard for many of us.  We much prefer to think of ourselves as self-sufficient.  Some of us really hate to feel needy.  One of the things detours can do is knock down our sense of invincibility. It can be extremely disorienting.  We are Americans.  We are used to removing obstacles from our paths.  When we encounter one that we can't move, it can be particularly frustrating.  We are likely to face some very uncomfortable feelings: anger, fear, disorientation.  Rest is necessary.


You might say that Paul had a two-year long sabbath rest while he was locked up in prison.  Oh, I don't mean he did nothing.  Besides sharing the gospel with Felix and Drusilla, I'm sure he was praying earnestly for the churches and his friends and coworkers.  He was probably writing letters to them and studying the Bible.  But it was a sabbath in the sense that Paul couldn't make his life happen while he was in prison.  He was forced to accept his own limitations and allow God to work.  Sabbath rests are good for all of us.


Take advantage of the rest stops.  God puts them there for a reason.


Friends, our brother Paul shows us that detours are part of the journey; it's how we travel them that matters.  Don't take shortcuts.  Treat people as people.  Take advantage of the rest stops.


When we find ourselves on a detour, we need to rely on God even more than we usually do.  Because Paul trusted God, he could walk straight into that detour, knowing God had his hand on him every step of the way.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes: “And 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.” (Rom. 8:28 NLT)


We are never out of the palm of God's hand, no matter how hard the circumstances.  God is always working out his purposes for us.  As those who belong to Christ, we can trust there is never a detour where we are alone.  God is always with us.  Which means, when you think of it, that with God there are no detours at all.



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JULY 29th, 2018                                                                                            PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                       ACTS 21:1-6; 7-20a


Our readings this morning from Acts 21 feature the last leg of Paul's third missionary trip. As with his second trip, this one has taken him across one country after another. I remember how the last leg of my cross-country meets generally ended with a lot of panting and wheezing. But not Paul — his last leg sees him finishing strong, with folks gathering around him in city after city.

After his tearful farewell to the Ephesian elders we read about last week, Luke reports, that "we sailed straight to the island of Cos." (Acts 21:1) Why? I don't know —just 'cause! (Sorry...!)

After a night in Cos, they pressed on to Rhodes, home of Colossus, the largest statue of the ancient world and one of the seven wonders of the world, but they were on a mission so they pressed on to Patara. "There we boarded a ship sailing for Phoenicia" (Acts 21:2) and sailing past Cypress, where Paul's first missionary trip began, they arrived in the Port of Tyre, tired, yes; but bored, no..!

As in Miletus, they where greeted warmly by the believers in Tyre. After a week of sharing and praying together, the church, including women and children escorted Paul and his team back to the port where they boarded another boat to take them down the coast a bit to Ptolemais, where the local church once again greeted them and put them up for the night. The following day they went to Caesarea, where they stayed a week with Phillip and his family. That's Phillip the evangelist not the apostle...

After another tearful departure Paul and company concluded their mission trip with their return to the mother church in Jerusalem. The believers there threw them a welcome home party at the home of man named, Mnason, a native of Cypress and one of the first Gentiles there to come to faith. His presence and that of other Gentile-believers such as Silas and Luke underscore Paul's testimony: "Paul gave a detailed account of the things God has accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry (and), after hearing this, they all praised God!" (Acts 21:19-20)

Two things stand out in this text. The first is this: in the span of six verses the spiritual gift of prophecy is mentioned three times. The matter of fact manner in which Luke refers to the use of the gift and those so gifted reveals how not only the natural spiritual gifts, like hospitality, generosity, teaching and preaching were utilized but how common place was the practice of applying the more supernatural gifts like speaking and interpreting tongues, words of knowledge...and, prophecy.

Prophecy is one of the least understood of the spiritual gifts. It is some times equated as being akin to fortunetelling, but if that's all it is than it would present a terrible danger for being used for self-serving gain. It would be like the future can manipulated... Calvin illustrates...

Calvin:           Hop in the time machine, Hobbes! We're going a few hours into the future! I'll have finished my story by then. So we'll just pick it up and brting it back to the present! That way, I won't have to write it!

Hobbes:         Something doesn't make sense here, and I think it's me sitting in this box.

Calvin:           Relax! We'll be back as soon as we go.

Something doesn't make sense there alright...! However, from Luke's references in Acts 21 and Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians, which he wrote in route during this (r) mission trip, we gain some much needed insight, regarding both the practice and purpose of this spiritual gift.



One practical insight is that the gift wasn't only for the leaders, but was exercised fully within the Body of Christ. For instance, in Tyre, Luke notes that "the believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit." (Acts 21:4) They weren't the leaders. Paul doesn't even specify gender or age. The suggestion being that members of the church, had the gift to prophesy. This is confirmed by Luke a few verses later: "(Phillip...) had four unmarried daughters who (all) had the gift of prophecy." (Acts 21:9)

Luke's mention of their gender and that they were unmarried reveals that in the early church neither gender nor age was a prerequisite for being filled with the Holy Spirit or being involved in the Lord's ministry. As he later writes to his young protege', Timothy: "Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say and in the way you live..."

(1 Timothy 4:12)

Women also were entrusted as partners in this ministry. As God promised thru the prophet Joel: "In the last days I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy!"

(Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28)

Further, in his teaching on the gift, Paul emphasized how important this gift is to the church: "You should desire the special abilities the Spirit gives — especially the ability to prophesy."

(1 Corinthians 14:1)

So the gift of prophesy is to be released thru the young and old, men and women, individually or collectively. It can be uttered over a person or a church, though Paul taught its primary purpose was to edify the church as a whole: "One who prophesies strengthens others... A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who prophesies strengthens the entire church"

(1 Corinthians 14:4)

So a person who speculates about what the future might bring in a kind of generic way may have insights to share but what they share should not be confused with the gift of prophecy!

Calvin:           In the future, everything will be effortless! Computers will take care of every task. We'll just point to what we want done and click We'll never need to leave the climate-controlled comfort of our homes! No nuisance. No wasted time. No annoying human interaction....

Hobbes:         ...No life.

Calvin:           Life is too inconvenient.

Nope — that's not it! So what's the purpose of New Testament prophecy? Why does Jesus, by way of the Holy Spirit, entrust this particular spiritual gift to his followers? Paul speaks to this in his letter to Corinth: "The one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, comforts them. The one who prophesies strengthens the entire church." (1 Corinthians 14:3-4)

Not long after Jesus' birth, a woman by the name of Anna exercised her prophetic gift in this way. Luke records: "Anna, a prophet..., began praising God and talked about the child (Jesus) to everyone who had been waiting expecting for God to rescue Jerusalem." (Luke 2:38)

Her prophetic gift encouraged others not to give up hope...and to recognize the messiah in their midst. When I was at Holy Trinity Brompton some years back, a member of the church asked the pastor if he could share a word, and then quoting scripture pointed to the reality of God doing a new thing in their midst, that new songs were being inspired by the Spirit, for example, in their midst!

So mostly, the gift of prophesy is meant to strengthen and encourage the local church. Our reading from Acts 21 also reveals the gift being used to offer a warning. So it was with the believers in Tyre who "prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem." (21:4)



Agabus also prophetically points to trouble ahead but offers no advice. Paul receives the pro­phetic word as confirmation of what the Holy Spirit has already shown him... He recognizes that God is not trying to discourage him but prepare him for what lies ahead. When it does he'll know it's all part of God's master plan. As he told those in Caesarea: "The Lord's will be done!" (Acts 21:14)

About ten years ago one of you had a prophetic image or word during worship. You saw a hand putting together the ingredients for ice tea and then slowly stirring it. You had the sense that we were the tea. Something was going to stir us up! Within two years we found ourselves in turmoil when the decisions made at the national level compromised the authority of scripture.In the months that followed we got truly stirred up. The prophetic vision helped me know God was not surprised. It was comforting

(Before that was Linda's prophetic vision of sparks flying out of Chimacum... !}

Finally,a prophetic word may be uttered to convict sin. "If you're prophesying, unbelievers be convicted of their sin... As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, 'God is truly here among you!'"

(1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

All this to say, that prophesy, like the gifts of knowledge, healing, miracles and tongues, is a gift from Christ to his church thru the Holy Spirit. It holds tremendous value and power to us who seek to do the Lord's will and work in this time and place. Paul is pretty clear in his teaching: "You should desire the special abilities the Spirit gives — especially the ability to prophesy." (1 Corinthians 14:1)

The second thing that struck me with our reading from Acts 21 is its parallel to our present circumstances. We too have a mission team sent out from the home church, to far distant lands, on the cusp of returning home. Like the churches in Tyre, Caesarea and Jerusalem we should be gearing up to give our returning missionaries a very warm welcome, and again when Ari returns next month.

As with Paul, next Sunday Tim, Crystal and Timmy, will stand before you, prepared to "give a detailed account of the things God has accomplished" during their mission trip. (Acts 21:19)

Three specific actions seem to be central to Paul's homecoming. First they prayed. We see this repeatedly in the final leg of Paul's third missionary trip. Its what they did back in Miletus: "When Paul finished speaking, he knelt down and prayed with them." (Acts 20:36)

And again, a few days later in Tyre, Luke informs us: "The entire congregation, including women and children, left the city and came down to the shore with us. There we knelt and prayed.."

(How cool is that that the kids were a part of the action?!)                                       (Acts 21:5)

A second facet was Paul's praise report, giving a detailed account of the things God did during the trip. After each day I served in Ukraine and then Slovkia we gathered as a team and shared God moments! We celebrated not only the big stuff but how God was in the details! Next Sunday there'll be some sharing from this week's VBS God moments! I wonder if we shouldn't do this more often...!

Third, the response to what was shared, was a pouring out of praise. "After hearing what Paul had to share, they all praised God!" (Acts 21:20) How fitting! Its not about how great Tim & Crytal or any of us are, but how great God is! It's Jesus' ministry and if any hearts are moved that's a clear sign that His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is on the move! Jesus gets the praise! Pray — report — praise!

Does anyone have a praise report? Succinctly share it and let's give God our praise over it...!




JULY 22nd, 2018                                                                                            PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul’s Footprints                                                                                      ACTS 20:13-21; 22-38


                                                PARTING WORDS


            After pausing to read from the letters Paul wrote during his third missionary trip, we're back in the saddle again.  Or more like, back in the boat, as most of Paul's traveling at this late juncture is done by sea.  Let's recap the trip.  After setting off from his home church in Antioch, Paul went to Ephesus, where he stayed for three years discipling the church there before returning to Macedonia by way of Troas.  After planting a church there he sailed to Neapolis, and began visiting the churches he'd planted during his second trip in places like Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth.  It was from Corinth that he wrote the letter to the church in Rome we read from last week.  Then, after retracing his steps back up north to Macedonia, Paul and company caught a boat back to Troas. 


            It was there in Troas that Paul preached so long that a young man fell asleep in the upper deck, fell to his death, only to be revived by Paul thru the power of the Holy Spirit.  If you think I can be long-winded, you should've been there for that one!  The congregation was dropping like flies...!


            After a week in Troas, Paul's entourage departs by boat but for some reason Paul travels alone by land to Assos.  Why?  I don't know, he's on third, and I don't care! 

            No, wait, that was Who's On First!   Point is, Luke doesn't tell us why Paul travels alone on foot to Assos. Maybe Paul goes it alone because he wants to witness along the way - or maybe he just wants to order out for pizza!  Luke doesn't say.  We don't know. 


            What we do know is Paul's entourage meet up with him in Assos, and from there, Luke notes, “We sailed together to Mitylene”, which was the capital of the island of Lesbos. Nothing to report there so Luke moves on: “The next day we sailed past the island of Kios.”  Kios was the island where the famous Greek poet, Homer, was born but apparently nothing noteworthy happened there either. 

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 20:14)

            So..., “The following day we crossed to the island of Samos.”  (Acts 20:15)  Samos was the birthplace of Pythagoras, the father of mathematics and geometry. (Yawn) Apparently it was a great place to catch some zzz's so they spent the night and, “A day later we arrived at Miletus.” (Acts 20:15) 


            Paul invites the leaders of the church in Ephesus to meet him there.  Apparently the Holy Spirit has revealed to him that he will not be returning to the church he spent so much time and energy wit-nessing to and disciplining.  So they gather to hear his parting words. 


            Saying goodbye can be hard.  Luke notes that “When he had finished speaking..., they all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye.”  (Acts 20:36-37) Can you picture it?  They had a hard time wrenching themselves apart.  Maybe it looked a bit like this...   ['Funny Farewell' YouTube video]


            Looks painful.  I'm sure it was. Paul had spent three years with them – far longer than he'd spent with any other church he'd planted.  He was like a father to them.  It was his labor – his blood, sweat and tears – literally, from which the Ephesian church had been birthed.   He'd been beaten, imprisoned and sent into the arena to fight wild animals.   He “worked humbly and with many tears.” (Acts 20:19)


            He's about to cut his child loose and so he seeks to share some parting words with them.  Have you ever received or spoken such words, words intended to leave the child with some last good advice, words of wisdom to help them in the time apart that lies ahead? 



            Christian comedian, Tim Hawkins, has some fun with that.  He tells how his mom, just after he hurt himself, would tell him, “Be careful!”   His brother would throw their whammo frisbee – a great name for a flying projectal, by the way – and the frisbee would hit him in the eye!  Whamo!   And just then his mother would call out from the front steps: Be Careful!   Thanks mom... 

            Or he'd be getting in the car and his mom would say, “Make good decisions!”  How would it be, Tim muses, if once she said, “Drive fast and take chances!”   Alright...!


            Back to Paul's parting words.  He wants to encourage them to make good decisions, but he, of course, goes well beyond that.  He reminds them of his initial message by which they came to faith: “I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike – the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God thru faith our Lord Jesus.”    (Acts 20:21)

            He reminds them not only to encourage them to stay rooted in the faith that sprang to life when they heard this message but that they have been entrusted to pass it on to others.  He also tells them of the insight the Spirit has given him.  He informs them that he won't back.  And there are more tears. 


            Then, he offers three key insights we would do well to keep in mind as well.  First, he speaks of being led by the Holy Spirit.  “I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem.  I don't know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead.” 

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 20:22-3) 

            Paul tells them this so one, they will not try and talk him out of what God has told him he must do; and two, to remind them what it looks like to walk in the Spirit – that prayer is more than talking to God, it is as much about listening as it is about talking.  If the church is to thrive, every believer, starting with her leaders, must learn to faithfully listen to and follow the Spirit's leading. 


            Paul also reminds them that it is this same Holy Spirit that called them into the positions of servant leadership in the church in the first place: “The Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.”  (Acts 20:28)  He's reminding them that when they stepped forward they were following the Spirit. 


            If we are to be effective as the Body of Christ, we must all learn to do this.  It takes both faith and practice.  This is part of the reason Jesus puts his Spirit in us in the first place – to speak to us, to lead us, to inspire us, to empower us!  For more on that subject check out the message from July 8th...


            Paul's second pastoral word is a message of warning: “Guard yourselves and God's people.  I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave...”  (Acts 20:28-9)


            Paul predicted that the Ephesian church would come under attack from two sides.  The vicious wolves were well-educated and represented a threat from the outside in.  In addition, Paul warned, “Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following.” (Acts 20:30)  Later letters from Paul reveal that this is exactly what happened.  In the letters Paul wrote to his protege', Timothy, who he assigned to pastor this church, we see this prophecy fulfilled. 


            I found this text amazing timing for me personally.  Two weeks ago Jeremy loaned me a book entitled, Battle For The Bible, in which the author writes about the threat of those who are teaching that the Bible contains errors.  The author warns that an approach to interpreting scripture called, The Historical-Critical Method, undermines the authority of Scripture by teaching that a number of biblical stories are not historical but mythical, that some books are not authored by the names attributed to them, that many of the quotes from Jesus he may never have actually said, and so on. 



            Such ideas are being taught at universities and at seminaries of numerous denominations across the country, the author warns.  When I checked the copyright I saw that the book was written some forty years ago!  The author goes on to warn that such teaching creates a slippery slope.... (apostacy)


            It's now so prevalent its featured on the History Channel, National Geographic and others. We live in a land and a time in which the wolves are running rampant!  As Paul warns: “Watch Out!”

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 20:31)

            The third thing Paul shares in his parting words to the Ephesian leaders is his reminder to them to be grace-full and generous.  He declares: “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finish-ing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God...   So now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace.” 

                                                                                                                        (Acts 20:24, 32)

            It’s all about helping people embrace and live out the wonderful grace of God.  God’s grace is the gift of God’s undeserved, unconditional love and forgiveness offered in Christ to a wounded, wounding world.  But as a gift we need to not only know about it but to unpack it, to apply it...


            The church in Ephesus would soon come under attack from wolves, just as Paul prophesied. For a season the mission would reel and falter, but eventually they would stand firm in the Word.  Jesus even commends them for doing so in John's Revelation letter to them: “Write this letter to the church in Ephesus: 'I know all the things you do...  I know you don't tolerate evil people.  You have examin-ed the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not.  You have discovered they are liars...'”

                                                                                                                        (Revelation 2:1-2)

            But then Jesus adds a word of reproach.  Listen to how they have lost their way: “But I have this complaint against you.  You don't love me or each other as you did at first!”  (Revelation 2:4) In their zeal to cast out false prophets they've lost their first love.  This church of former prostitutes and pagans, children of grace, are no longer full of grace to the sinners around them! 


            Simone Weil, a Jew who followed Christ and died at age thirty-three in France under Nazi rule, left as her only legacy a written record of her pilgrimage to God.  Weil concluded that two great forces rule the universe: gravity and grace. Gravity causes one body to attract other bodies so that it continual-ly enlarges by absorbing more and more of the universe into itself.  This same force operates in us as well.  We too want to expand, to acquire, to swell in significance.  We get trapped in the gravitational field of self-love, filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass. “Grace,” on the other hand “embraces with joy our total dependence upon the goodness of God. We become ‘jolly beggars’.”                                                                                                                                              (C.S. Lewis)

            C.S. Lewis referred to this life as The Shadowlands, a place where light only gets in through the cracks.   That’s why it’s so important for the church to be a safe haven for hurting people. That’s why we want to be known as a “Come as You Are Church” – a haven for people who know they’re messed up.  After all that’s who Jesus hung out with.  He preferred their company because they were honest about their junk and didn’t put on airs, people who realized their life was in ruins as opposed to those who were consumed with religion.  Whatever makes us feel superior to others, whatever tempts us to convey a sense of superiority, that is gravity, not grace. 

            The Christian life does not primarily center on ethics or rules bur rather involves a new way of seeing and relating.  I escape the force of spiritual gravity when I begin to see myself as a sinner who cannot please God by efforts at self-improvement. As I turn to God for outside help – for grace – I discover a holy God who already loves me despite my defects. I escape the force of gravity again when I recognize my neighbors are also sinners, loved by God.   



            One of my favorite films that conveys this is the 1990's version of Les Miserable... 

            [DVD clip from the film, Les Miserables;                                                      ]



            As I turn to God for outside help – for grace – I discover a holy God who already loves me despite my defects and recognize my neighbors are also sinners loved by God.   “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of demonstrating to others the Good News of God's wonderful grace...”               (Acts 20:24)


            It’s like the little boy who was dressed up in his Sunday’s best and was told to keep himself clean while his parents got ready.  But while they were doing so he slipped outside to make a few mud pies.  When his mother found him he was covered in mud and muck.  Tears swelled up in his eyes as he raised his hands in a pitiful gesture.  Without a word she stooped down and picked him up.  She carried him inside and cleaned him up but as she stepped out of the bathroom she bumped into her husband.  His mouth dropped open as he she stood there in her new dress, covered in her son’s mud and muck. 


            That is what God has done in Christ for you.  He has stooped down to meet you in the muck, has taken on your mud, and offered to clean you up in the living waters of his limitless love and forgiveness.  You may be soiled thru and thru but you are still God’s pride and joy.  All of us in the church need grace-healed eyes to see the potential in others with the same grace that God has bestowed on us.     “So now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace.”          (Acts 20:32)




JULY 15th, 2018                                                                                            PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      ROMANS 8:15-21; 22-30



                                                    “SHARING THE GLORY!


            Ever wonder what heaven will be like?  There are some rather interesting ideas in circulation these days. Gary Larson depicted a man sitting on a cloud, looking bored, saying, “I wish I'd brought a magazine.”  Hope it’s not like that!   Or is it more like this...?  “Welcome to heaven. Here's your harp.”

            And the flip side of that?   “Welcome to hell....  Here's your accordion.” 


            More recently this heavenly possibility appeared on facebook: “Most of the new arrivals seem incapable of conversation.  They just stare at their hands in despair.” 

            Or maybe it's like the cat who's told he can have or do anything he wants. “How about a satin pillow for all day napping?” he asks Peter. “Granted!”  Next Peter offers a group of mice whatever they want.  They tell him they've always dreamed of owning  roller skates.  “Granted,” Peter exclaims. 

            The next day Peter is making rounds when he sees the cat. “Well, Mr. Cat, what do you think?  Are you enjoying your satin pillow? 

            “To be sure!” says the cat.  “And might I say that the meals on wheels was a nice touch, too!”


            So some think it will be boring, sitting around on a cloud, playing a harp or some such thing – others that it's where we'll get to do and receive whatever we want.  But isn't that what plagues us here – unchecked selfishness, greed and self-indulgence? Even Calvin & Hobbes mock this inconsistency:

Calvin :     Do you think tigers go to the same heaven that people go to?  I mean, in heaven, every-                      one is supposed to be happy, right? But people wouldn't be happy if they were always in danger

            of being eaten by tigers!  On the other hand, heaven wouldn't be very nice without tigers, either.

            I wouldn't be happy if there weren't any tigers....   Maybe tigers just don't eat people in heaven.   

Hobbes:     But then WE wouldn't be happy. 


            There's a great deal of confusion out there regarding what lies beyond the pale. What can we expect?  Paul answers that here at the center of his letter...by pointing to glory on the horizon!  No less than six times in thirteen verses Paul speaks of a future glory: “You received God's Spirit when He adopted you as his own children, and since we are His children..., together with Christ, we are heirs of God's glory.” (Romans 8:16-17)  Why is this glory better than getting what we think we want?


            Paul provides several insights regarding this future glory.  First, it puts our present troubles in perspective: “If we are to share Christ's glory, we must also share his suffering.  Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.”  (Romans 8:17-18) 


            Paul points to a timeless truth here.  Seasons of pain come and go, but the joy that awaits us, the unconditional love, that we'll experience 24/7 will last for all eternity.  What we experience here is temporary at best.  What we experience everafter is never ending!  That puts things into perspective!


            It's why Paul, who was no stranger to pain & loss, could confidently urge us: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thess 5:18)  I like to pray beneath the stars.  I'm reminded of how fleeting my worries and problems are in the big scheme of things and yet the Creator of the cosmos cares about them and me, and sent Jesus to draw me to himself that he might give me hope via a fresh perspective. “Don't let your hearts be troubled,” he said.“Trust in God, trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father's home. When everything is ready, I'll come and get you, so that you'll always be with me where I am.”             (John 14:1-3)





Jesus was saying in effect, when hard times come, and they will, keep your eyes on the prize! As noted, Paul was no stranger to hardship and trouble: whipped, stoned, mocked, shipwrecked and bitten by snakes. Yet he said: 'What I suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He'll reveal to me later.'        (Romans 8:18) 


            Paul also points out that this future glory will involve the revelation of who God's true children are.  Many today claim to be Christian yet don't in the least way resemble Jesus.  That frustrates me.  I know many seekers give up on Jesus because of it.  I hear it a lot at Alpha.  But I'm encouraged, “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that day when God will reveal who His children really are!”                                                                                                                         (Romans 8:19)

            So it’s not just me!  All creation is eagerly waiting for that day.  There's a TV show, 'To Tell the Truth', in which three people pretend to be a fourth person.  The panelists try to guess which of the four is the actual person in question.  At the end, the host asks, 'Will the real...(John Smith), please stand up'. 

            Apparently, part of the way Christ will share his glory is by revealing the truth.  “Will the real Christ followers please stand up!” And only those who really are, will, and all of creation will rejoice!    

            Furthermore, as we heard, Paul points out that “Together with Christ, we are heirs of God's glory.” (Romans 8:17)  That is, we don't earn it; it is bequeathed to us.  As we embrace Jesus in faith,  God makes us coheirs of his kingdom. “God blesses those who are poor in heart, who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs... God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.  God blesses those who are persecuted...for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

                                                                                                                        (Matthew 5:3, 5, 10)

            So if we're heirs of the kingdom of heaven, what kind of heavenly treasure awaits us?  In Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, Nicholas befriends an orphan at the orphanage he works. Appalled at his cruel treatment at the hands of the headmaster, Nicholas takes the orphan under his wing...

            [DVD clip from the film, Nicholas Nickleby; 39:40 – 40:50]

            Dickens, a devout Christian, points to a profound truth here.  The ways of the world around and within us, that separates us from God, leave us deeply unsettled.  We wander...but in the end, he is our home!   Ultimately, Nick brings Smyke home, where his family adopts him as one of their own...

            [DVD clip from the film, Nicholas Nickleby; 1:14:55 – 1:15:57]


            The inheritance of greatest value to Smyke is that of the family's unconditional love and the gift of being in the ongoing presence of his friend, who adopted him as coheir, to shares his glory with him.

            As Peter observed: “Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that awaits us in heaven, pure and undefiled...”  (1 Peter 1:4)  That inheritance, that prize whose value is beyond compare, is the treasure of being in the ongoing presence of Jesus....!



In addition: “With eager hope, all of creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay...  We eagerly wait for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.” 

                                                                                                                        (Romans 8:21-24)

There's a moment in the book, Heaven Is For Real, that I particularly like.  Four-year-old Colton tells of meeting his father's maternal grandfather, “pop”, during his time in heaven.  When his father later showed him a photo, Colton said, 'Dad, nobody's old in heaven and nobody wears glasses'.


Frustrated that he didn't recognize him, Colton's father found an older photo, dating from 1943 with 'Pop', age 29, sitting with several other people.  When he showed it to Colton, he asked what he thought.  “Hey, how'd you get a picture of pop, and how come it's in black and white?”



            Part of our sharing in Christ's glory one day will include new resurrected bodies.  One day, not only will the pain of this world be swallowed up in joy and victory but so will all forms of age & decay

No more glasses, psoriasis, arthritis, tendonitis – and lots more hair!  Yes...! 


            Paul continues his insights of future glory by noting that “We have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory.”  (Romans 8:23)  This builds on what he wrote earlier: “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you!” (Rom. 8:11)  God's resurrection power is to be released thru us by the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. That's what makes prayer so exciting!             Furthermore, this outpouring of His Holy Spirit gives us a foretaste, a glimpse, of heaven.


            We catch powerful glimpses of such activity in the Book of Acts: “The apostles were perform-ing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people...  Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.” 

                                                                                                                        (Acts 5:12, 16) 

            Many who've been prayed for here, have experienced physical and inner healing.  Paul says this is a mere sampling of what awaits us, a glimpse what Christ's kingdom in heaven is like!  It's like God's down payment in and thru you of that day when there'll be no more pain, no more tears, no more decay!

Can you imagine? But God provides more than inspiration, he provides validation, thru the Holy Spirit!


            We also catch a glimpse of God's glory when we see God's redeeming hand at work, transform-ing our mistakes, our woundedness, even our past waywardness itself to further His salvation plan for us and others.  “For 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)


            One of the most powerful images of this are the 2 trees in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 and those in Revelation 22.  The trees of life and knowledge are the catalyst for our separation from God as Adam & Eve eat from their forbidden fruit, but the trees in Revelation 22 show God using those 2 trees to cause everything to work together for our good!  “On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit.  The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”  (Rev. 22:2)

            Reminds me of another tree, the tree of Calvary, used for evil by which God heals the nations!


            In God's good plan, nothing gets wasted.  It is God's ultimate victory over the enemy! Even that which he plots and schemes to bring death and decay wind up being used by God for our good, for the healing of the nations and the redemption of all creation, better because the wounds reveal God's grace in ways that would not be visible or known any other way, than by his redeeming what was broken. 


            And that's not all, Paul writes, “God chose His people to become like his Son..., and having chosen them he called them to come to him..., and in so doing, gave them His glory.” 

                                                                                                                        (Romans 8:29-30)

            This is God's ultimate plan, to transform you into the image of his son, that is, to sanctify you, by drawing you to himself.  It is by being in his presence that we become more and more like him, that indeed we come to reflect his glory.  Like Smyke, we whisper, “You are my home! We're family!”


            There's the story of a woman who was dying of cancer.  During her pastor's visit she whispered to him her dying wish.  There was something she wanted to be buried with.  And so when the time came, he made it so.  At her open casket funeral people paused, marveled and murmured.  “Why, in the world, has some one put a common table fork in her hand?  What is this?”





            The pastor explained.  The woman was an active member of his church and had attended count-less church potlucks over the years in which she'd been told at the end of the meal, with the yummy desserts waiting in the foyer, “Save your fork, the best is yet to come!”  Her fork points to glory...!


            Troubles will come, but don't let them distract you from the prize.  Christ intends to give you glimpses of future glory through an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but don't crave the manifestations, pursue the relationship behind them.   For Christ himself is the ultimate prize and he intends to share his glory with you!   Nothing could be more exciting!  So save your fork, the best is yet to come! 


            “Nothing can compare to the glory He will reveal to us later! We are heirs of God's glory!”

                                                                                                                        (Romans 8:17-18)




title_walking in spirit_WEB.jpg

JULY 8th, 2018                                                                                              PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      ROMANS 1:1-16; 8:1-16

                                    “WALKING IN THE SPIRIT!


            So what kind of letter is this, this letter to the Romans?  I mean, it's like no other letter Paul, or any of the other apostles, ever wrote.  It reads more like a theological essay then a personal letter. 

            In a way, it's kinda like the mysterious letter Hobbes received one time...

Calvin:                        Hey, Hobbes, you got a letter.

Hobbes:           A letter?  For me?  Wow, I never get letters!  What fun!  A letter for me!  I wonder who

                        sent it?  I wonder what it says?  What could this possibly be? 

Calvin:                        OPEN IT AND FIND OUT, YOU LUNATIC!

Hobbes:           Don't get huffy.  I want to savor this...

Calvin:                        Well?  Well?  What'd you get? 

Hobbes:           It looks like an invitation. 

Calvin:                        So what does the invitation say, you dumb hairball? 

Hobbes:           Call me names, will you?  I'll read it when I'm good and ready.

Calvin:                        AARGGHH!  Oooohh!   Mpf!  Ggh!   Rrghghmfmpf! 

Hobbes:           Ok, now I'm ready.  ...Ahem....      “Dear................Hobbes...”

Calvin:                        FASTER!

Hobbes:           Well, well!  It's an invitation to Susie Derkins' birthday party.  How nice. 

                        We get to go to a birthday party! 

Calvin:                        That stupid Susie. 

Hobbes:           Maybe we'll play 'Spin the Bottle'! 

Calvin:                        OH, GET REAL!                               (from The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, p. 202)


            Okay, there are some major differences between Hobbes' letter and that of Romans.  There's no mystery who Paul's letter is from as Paul identifies himself immediately: “This letter is from Paul.”

                                                                                                                                    (Romans 1:1)

            His letter is sixteen chapters long as well, unlike a simple birthday invitation and he writes, in part, not to invite them to come to his home but to invite himself to theirs!  “I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift...”  (Romans 1:11)  On the other hand, there are a couple of similarities. 


            Paul's letter must've been a wonderful surprise. No other apostle had written them. Like Hobbe's letter, it contains good news – a term that Paul uses repeatedly throughout the letter.  And this Good News is also an invitation of sorts to a party – a kingdom of God party!  So what else do we know?


            Well, we know that all his other letters but one, were written to churches he'd planted, but here, Paul writes to a church he's yet to visit – and he's excited: “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.”      (Romans 1:12) 


            We also know from references in the Book of Acts, and Paul's other letters, that Romans was written from Corinth around 57 AD towards the end of Paul's third missionary trip.  The church was born years earlier when Jews from Rome, present in Jerusalem on Pentecost, returned home: “On the day of Pentecost all the believers present were filled with the Holy Spirit... At that time there were devout Jews from every nation in Jerusalem... (Among them were) visitors from Rome.”  (Acts 2:1f.)


            In Second Corinthians, Paul pointed to a battle waging within us....  In Romans he revisits that theme: “There is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is within me – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong!   






            Oh, what a mess I am! Who'll free me from this life dominated by sin and death? The answer is Jesus Christ our Lord who brings victory by revealing a new way of living by walking in the Spirit                                                                                                                   (Romans 7:21-25)

            So how does this work?  What does this new way of living look like?  Paul offers four insights:

1)      When you open the door of your heart to Jesus the Holy Spirit enters in.

2)      His life-giving Spirit sets you free by guiding you into a whole new mindset.

3)      Learning to follow the Spirit helps you grow into the very likeness of Jesus himself. 

4)      The Holy Spirit living within you has life-giving power.


            In his letters to Corinth, Paul wrote: “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.”  (1 Cor 12:3) Paul echoes that teaching here in Romans 8: “Remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all...  The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you...   For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm we are God's children.” 

                                                                                                                        (Romans 8:9, 11, 16)

            Paul makes it clear that as we open our hearts to Jesus, His Spirit comes to live within us.  This echoes the promise Jesus himself made when he said, “Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in...”  (Revelation 3:20) 


            As the perfect gentleman he is, he doesn't force his way in, he stands at the door of your heart, knocking, waiting for you to open the door.  He knocks sometimes by sending people into our lives who give witness to his love and grace.  Other times by providing God moments that grab our attention.     

            Second, the Spirit sets us free by guiding us into a whole new mindset. “No longer follow your sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. Letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”  (Rom 8:6)


            So how does that work?  How do we follow the Spirit? By putting one foot in front of the other!

            Step 1: Learn to recognize Jesus' voice.  Jesus said: “(I am he) who calls his sheep by name and leads them out.  I walk ahead of them and they follow me because they recognize my voice.” 

                                                                                                                        (John 10:3-4)

            How do we come to recognize his voice?  By listening to and studying scripture.  As you come to know his heart and the things that're important to him you'll recognize his words to you...


            How do we follow the Spirit?  Step 1: Learn to recognize Jesus' voice.

            Step 2: Learn what pleases the Spirit.  Paul wrote: “Those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.”  (Romans 8:5)  How do you learn to do that?  Listen for what he's up to in the places in Scripture that focus on him.  Jesus talks about him, Paul talks a lot about him and the book of Acts tells of the Spirit's influence on the early church! 


            As you read through Acts you'll see that the types of things that are pleasing to the Spirit are when followers of Christ are actively helping, healing, witnessing, glorifying and otherwise loving on others in Jesus' name.  As Paul put it: “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22) 


            How do we follow the Spirit?  Step 1: Learn to recognize Jesus' voice.

            Step 2: Learn what pleases the Spirit.    And Step 3...?   Learn from others.    








            There are a number of Christ followers here who actively seek to be led by the Spirit who could mentor you.  Carol has been mentoring several women; Amber & Olivia just hooked up with Anne Louise; Josh & Ken are mentoring our youth.  Another way to be mentored, is by opening yourself to any number of literary mentors...: John Wimber, Catherine Marshall, Nicky Gumbel, Robby Dawkins...

            Get mentored!   How do we follow the Spirit?  Step 1: Learn to recognize Jesus' voice.

            Step 2: Learn what pleases the Spirit.    Step 3: Learn from others.  Step 4: Pray and practice!


            It's a process of learning to trust that God wants to directly and personally lead you in order to make your life more meaningful, more significant, as you increasingly look at life and faith as an adventure in discovering what that next thing God has in store for you, from moment to moment... 


            I sense his leading thru inner nudges.  It starts with a willingness to be used or led, with prayer. Scripture is clear -  'God is on the move' – our job is to try and keep up and in step...!  It's an adventure!

            [DVD clip from the film, The Hobbit;                                                ]


            To follow the Spirit's leading, to get in step, means taking the risk of stepping out in faith, leav- behind my comfy Hobbit hole and recliner chair, and that adventures will mean I won't be the same. 


            A third insight Paul shares in Romans 8: Learning to follow the Spirit helps us grow into the very likeness of Jesus himself.: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  Now we call him, 'Abba, Father.' For His Spirit joins with our spirit.  We are God's children!”(Rom 8:14-16)


            Have you ever noticed how when a baby is born people like to determine which parent the baby most resembles.  My brother used to tease me that when I was born people thought I resembled the alien in the TV show, My Favorite Martian.  Thanks bro.  Funny thing, it seems like even a person's pet comes to resemble their human parent – or is it the other way around?   


            Anyway, as God's children we ought to resemble him as we grow up, or grow into Him.  So it is that Jesus puts his Spirit in us to help us so transform, which happens as hang out with him, give him our ear..., and learn to please His Spirit.  As a friend of mine likes to pray, 'Less of me & more of you!'


            Fourth: The Holy Spirit living within you has life-giving power.  We see this throughout the Bible starting with the opening verse where we're told “The Spirit was hovering...” (Genesis 1:2)

as God created all of life.  The same word is used when God breathes life into Adam. And Paul gives witness to the same: “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you!”  (Romans 8:11) Trust that...! 


            That's what makes prayer ministry so exciting.   We've seen that time and time again.  I recall how our small group gathered around a young woman in the group whose was going thru the emotion-ally exhausting experience of seeking medical help to conceive – for the third time, with no results.  We prayed over her week after week, and she soon started getting past the hurdles.  She went on to a have a baby boy, followed not long thereafter with conceiving triplets.  We may've over done it!


            I think I think of my friend David who was all torn up inside over a working relationship gone sour.  He was so full of anxiety and anger.  So we prayed – and he experienced a life-changing peace!  He's now the director of EEMN and believes strongly in the power of prayer.  Then there's Josh who was healed of a gall bladder infection at an Alpha retreat and Nicky who was healed here one Sunday morning when we invited the Holy Spirit to stir among us...!  God's Spirit has resurrection power!     






            “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God!” Paul declares. (Rom 8:14)  God wants to lead you by the Spirit as the children of God, as a family, loving on others in the same selfless radical way that God, in Christ, has and is loving on you, that through us, as the Body of Christ, led by His Spirit, we may bring to life, in this place and time, the kingdom of God, as we give up our own agenda to embrace his and as he leads us from the darkness of selfishness into the new life of the Spirit!


            “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you!”  (Romans 8:11)

God is on the move and following his lead, walking in His Spirit, is the adventure of a lifetime! 





JULY 1st, 2018                                                                                   PASTOR DON PIEPER

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS                                                             2 COR. 5:11-21; 10:1-5


                                                “THE BATTLE ZONE


            There's a battle going on and I'm not talking about the battle over whose turn it is to do the dishes or take out the garbage, as life-changing as that may be.  Nor is it any mere Tweetle Beetle Battle either!  Ever heard of one of those?  A couple of you were talking about it last weekend! 


            They say, that “when tweetle beetles fight, it's called A Tweetle Beetle Battle.  And when they battle in a puddle, it's a tweetle beetle puddle battle.  AND when tweetle beetles battle with paddles in a puddle, they call it a tweetle beetle puddle paddle battle.  AND..., when beetles battle beetles in a puddle paddle battle and the beetle battle puddle is a puddle in a bottle..., they call this...a tweetle beetle bottle puddle paddle battle muddle.    AND..., when beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle's on a poodle and the poodle's eating noodles..., they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle!”   Did you know that?  Well, they do!


            But that's not the kind of battle I'm talking about either, as vital as that beetle battle may be!  No The battle in question is one that finds us all in the battle zone and is as real as any battle you'll ever face. This battle is a cosmic one and is the underlying theme from cover to cover in the Bible.  Back in the beginning..., God created everything in perfect harmony.  And repeatedly we are told, it was good!


            But God's enemy, the fallen angel, Lucifer, otherwise known as Satan, having been cast from heaven seeks to cause havoc here among God's good creation.  Having subjected ourselves to his dark influence starting with the consumption of forbidden fruit, we perverted God's garden into a war zone.  It was in that dark moment of defiant disobedience that the cosmic battle in question began. 


            But in the heat of the battle God sent his champion, his only son, whose kingdom-growing mission was launched under an immediate assault from the enemy with his temptations in the wilder-ness, and climaxing with the battle on Calvary, where the enemy's apparent victory is catapulted into his ultimate defeat as the champion rises victorious over death, sin, and the enemy himself.        


            Along the way, God's champion, Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, trains his followers to equip themselves as to be more than conquerors in the battle zone in his kingdom conquest.  Each of his core group of disciples, Peter, James and John all refer to this battle zone in their letters. 


            Peter reminds us that The devil “ prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”  (1 Peter 5:8)  James urges us to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw close to God and God will draw close to you.” (James 4:7)    And John writes: “Dear children, don't be deceived..., when people keep sinning it shows they belong to the devil who has been sinning since the beginning, but the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.”  (1 John 3:7-8)


            In his book of Revelation, John further notes that “Satan, the dragon has gone off to make war against...those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”  (Rev. 12:17)


            So how does the enemy wage war against us and seek to devour us?  Jesus was clear: “He is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)  As John further warns: “He deceives the inhabitants of the earth....” (Revelation 13:14), and that “Satan has gone out to deceive the nations.”  (Revelation 20:8)





            Scripture is clear: Satan's chief weapon is that of deception.  He is a liar and the father of lies.  He will lie to us about God.  He will lie to us about ourselves.  He will lie to us about what brings life.  

Know this: the enemy will take full advantage of passive living.  Lives will be lulled to sleep.  Fear will rule.  Anxiety will dictate.  Toxic substitutes will be consumed because escape seems the only solution.


            In Paul's fourth letter to the Corinthians, written while he's up north in Macedonia during his third missionary trip, he reminds this beleaguered church of this cosmic battle they find themselves. 


            Paul writes: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Cor. 10:3-5)


            Paul's references to arguments and pretensions and to every thought that crosses our mind re-veals that he's not talking about a physical battle but a spiritual one, an inner one.  Yes, the enemy may launch physical adversity at us – just read Job or recall Paul's adversities...if you have any doubt about that – but his most formidable weapon, his violence of choice, is one that is fought within!


            So what can we do?  We demolish the enemy's strongholds.  We take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. We persist in our resistance of the enemy! We actively identify strongholds of deception and bring these pockets of malfeasance into truth-filled obedience to Christ. 


            Strongholds come in various shapes and sizes.  They are the lies that lead to eating disorders, pornography and addictions.  They are the lies that generate fear, anger, anxiety and discontent – those that have a way of driving us away from Christian community, that separate us from the Body of Christ. 


            There are voices within and without that feed into our fears and anger that would see us isolated and imprisoned...  But what if we unpacked what was really going on and held these deceptions up to the light of Scripture?  Consider the lies that fuel sexual sin.  Surely physical impulses play a role, but there's more to it than that.  There's the lie that says we're missing out, that everyone does it, or the one that convinces us that unbridled sexual expression generates a more satisfying life or experience or that whispers in our inner ear that if we don't do this we'll lose this person we want to be with.  Deception after deception, brick upon brick, until the stronghold is fortified. 


            How about eating disorders?  Is it just about the food or is there something else going on?  Do we eat because we're actually hungry or to numb the pain of some form of insecurity, or does the voice in our head convince us that we've earned it, even though it diminishes life rather than enhances it.


            One might ask how much influence a parent's definition of worth and value still hold sway in our lives.  How much are our decisions influenced by the way we define our worthiness?  Is worth defined by a need to always win, always seeking affirmation or based on our appearance...? 


            In the film, The Voyage of the Dawntreader, Lucy struggles under such influences.  She's be-come convinced that her value is directly connected to her appearance.  She listens to the voices that if only she were more like her sister, Susan, should be more accepted and adored.


            [DVD scene from Narnia: Voyage of the Dawntreader; 48:05 – 51:11]





The evil one almost ensnares her but the Lion of Judah whispers truth in her ears: “You doubt your value.”  As her brother, Edmund later exclaims, “Either we're all going mad or something or some one is playing with our minds.”  Indeed, such is the nature of the battle we all find ourselves in.  As the children were told: “To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside of you.”


            So how do we do that? We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

 (2 Cor 10:5)


            So how does that work?  How can we be free?  Say your boss or family member belittles you? The belittlement could send you spiraling toward escapist behavior, or you could counter by swinging the sword of truth, a metaphor Paul uses in his later letter to the Ephesians, to talk about tbe powerful weapon of God's Word, like this: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) Memorizing such a verse or having it in your purse or wallet can be a powerful weapon against such attacks... 


            Perhaps you face a risk-filled opportunity or a potential confrontation.  You could cower in fear or you could unsheathe the sword of truth: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you...”  (Isaiah 41:10)


            Maybe you're struggling with temptation, the all-too-familiar magnetic draw to a quick fix and a feel-good moment.  You crave that buzz even though it is accompanied with a lie of hopelessness or entitlement.  Caving in feels inevitable.  What can you do?  You can stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waist: “God is faithful; He will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear.”

                                                                                                              (1 Corinthians 10:13) 

            One of my weak spots is that of being criticised.  Once when I was criticised I felt myself begin to cave in to some crippling lie based thoughts. I recall identifying the nature of this stronghold when I went through the Morph Course.  I first identified the lie:“[I deserve the hurtful things that are said to me or happen to me.  Criticism reveals that I am hopeless, a failure and that I should just quit and give up before I mess up even more!] Here's the insight: {When self-pity or self-abasement kicks in at times of hardship or criticism I will recall how such times are common to all and to guard my heart, knowing that such times are temporary and God will use if for my benefit, to help me gain perspective and heal.}”   Where did I gain such insight, you might ask.  From this very letter we read today...! 


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


            The spiritual battle continues but relying on the weapons of the Spirit – on the Sword of the Spirit which is God's Word and upon prayer, by which we in faith access the very power of God, I have witnessed one stronghold after another come crumbling down in my life and in the lives of those around me – those who opened their hearts to God's Spirit and their minds to His truth...!


            My friends, don't give in to the lies that imprison you!  Instead, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”(2 Cor. 10:5)  “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free..., for if the Son of Man sets you free, you will be free indeed!”  (John 8:32, 26)  

The Curious Economics of Jesus

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The Curious Economics of Jesus                                                                             Jamie Maciejewski

2 Cor 8:1-9; 9:1-2, 6-15                                                                                              June 24, 2018


Money and grace.  What do they have in common?  Sounds like the start of a joke?  But really.  Nothing, right? Grace is the coin of the realm for the kingdom of heaven; money is the coin of the realm for the kingdom of earth.  They are totally different.


But here's Paul, who doesn't buy it.  Paul takes money and grace and links them inextricably.  Like Alice down the rabbit hole, he turns our understanding of the world on its head! 


Let's consider money.  It's kind of a personal topic.  We generally don't share how much we make, sometimes not even with family.  Same with how much we give.  And when it comes to church, we spend as little time as possible talking about it.  Sermons on stewardship probably rank right up there with going to the dentist for popularity!


It's not that different from grace.  Oh, grace is a lot more popular topic than stewardship.  What's the most popular hymn of all time?  Right.  Amazing Grace.  Even people who aren't religious love that song.  But grace is something most of us consider to be a profoundly personal topic.  Grace is about my personal relationship with Jesus.  Grace is between God and me.


So what Paul does is very curious.  He marries grace and money, and he makes them very public. 


You might be surprised to learn that, even though we heard the word “grace” only twice in the readings, the word for grace actually appears eight times in these verses!  Paul paints a picture of a kingdom full of kindness and generosity, a kingdom where grace is the coin of the realm. 


That might seem a bit odd, since Paul is writing to ask the Corinthians for money.  What do money and grace have to do with each other?  How does money, which when we love it too much is said to be the root of all evil – how does money show up right next to grace, this great and beautiful gift of God?  Oh, the curious economics of Jesus!  Let's take a closer look.


Here's how Paul begins this chapter: “Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia.”  (2 Cor 8:1) That word, kindness?  That's actually the first instance in our reading where the Greek word is grace.


So what has God in his kindness done for the churches in Macedonia, the believers who live sort-of next door to the church in Corinth?  He's given them joy!  Let's read:  “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor.  But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.”  (2 Cor 8:2)  Abundant joy.  This joy must not be the result of their circumstances, because Paul says they have many troubles and are very poor.  But they are simply overflowing with joy.


Why is that?  God's kindness and grace.  The believers are just welling up and pouring over with joy, because they have the greatest treasure of all – Jesus.


I want to read you another translation of this same verse.  “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (NIV)  Let's try this as a math equation: Joy plus Poverty equals Generosity.  Curious!


And not just a little generosity!  Rich generosity! Overflowing generosity!  Paul says, “They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.” (2 Cor 8:4) 


Here's the second time the word for grace shows up.  See if you can pick it out: “They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.”  Can you guess which word it is?  Privilege.  Poor as they were, they begged Paul for the privilege – the grace – of sharing their money!


In the curious economics of Jesus, the grace of God makes us so rich we overflow with joy, even if we are poor in material things.  And not just that!  Grace urges us to give it away; grace has us pleading for the privilege of giving. 


It's more than a bit unusual.  In the economic system we are used to, most people start out poorer than they'd like to be, and they work hard to get ahead.  And here's Jesus, who starts out rich and gives it all away!


Here's how Paul puts it: “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.”  Jesus started off rich and gave it all away, so that we could become rich!   But Jesus didn't give it to us to hoard.  In our joy at gaining Christ, Jesus wants us to give it away.


Sure you say, I may be spiritually rich, but I don't feel so rich in terms of money.


I hear you.  There's never been a point in my life where I had so much money I didn't need to be careful with it.  I've never been what the Macedonians were, extremely poor, but I've never felt rich, either.  When I was a kid, the only clothes my parents could afford to buy were ones I thought made me weird.  (I was wrong of course; it was just me that was weird!)  When I was 20 and a poor college student, I couldn't afford a whole lot of things. When I was single and trying to make it on my own for the first time..., when George and I were a one-income family raising small children..., now when we are looking toward September and having two kids in college (Pastor Don and Claudia, we feel your pain!) – at every point there is never quite enough.  Do you ever feel like that?


So how is it the Macedonians, poor as they are, feel so generous?  This is how: when God in his grace fills us with joy, it has to overflow in generosity, even when we are poor.


The times in my life when I felt richest are the times when I've been most generous.  Just after college, I was working a job that paid very, very little.  A family who had sort-of adopted me during college left to become missionaries at a seminary in France.  I loved Tim and Kerry and was so grateful for how they had invested in my life, so over the next couple of years I faithfully sent $50 every month to support their ministry.  Do you know how rich that made me feel? 


I found a story on the internet this week.  Seems this gentleman decided to celebrate his 65th birthday by giving away money to total strangers.  Here's what he posted on Facebook: "This day has been one of the biggest blessings of my recent life. I don't know if I can wait until another birthday to do this again. But what if it became a habit?" 


Paul understands that, for those whose lives have been touched by God, you just can't separate joy and generosity, grace and money.  Being generous blesses us!


Let me show you something else that's curious.  Look at verse 6 of chapter 8.  The Greek word for grace is hiding in this verse.  See if you can find it.  “So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving.”  Know what it is?  It's “ministry of giving.”  The translators used a whole phrase to interpret it.  Ministry of giving.  Same thing as grace.  Curious!


How about verse 7?  See if you can find it.  “Since you excel in so many ways – in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us – I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.”  What do you think?  This time it is a four-word phrase.  It's “gracious act of giving.”


In the economics of Jesus, you just can't separate grace and money.  Joyful generosity characterizes the life of believers, because generosity characterizes the life of Jesus. 


As with the Macedonians and the Corinthians, the Chimacumians here at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer are also finding joy in generosity.  When you and I put our tithes and offerings in the plate on Sundays, we are helping to share the good news of Jesus.


I wanted to share just four of the ways we are doing that, two of them close to home and two on other continents.


How many of you remember meeting Pastor Sheika and Haaka when they visit?  Sheika and Haaka live in Ulan Bator, capitol of Mongolia, a country sandwiched between Russia and China.  The church started from scratch there in 1991.  There were zero Christians before then.  Sheika and Haaka have heard God call them to plant churches in their country. 


Rob and Eshinee Veith: In 2008, while in Botswana cataloging the archives of a former missionary, Eshinee found a complete handwritten New Testament in the Shiyeyi language. Her heart was touched by the desire of the translator to bring God’s Word to his people. She spent several years training and working with local Christians to get it ready to be published, while Rob supported African churches in writing worship music in the language and music of their local communities. 


A few months ago Rob and Eshinee moved back to Bellingham.  Now Eshinee coordinates the training programs for all of Lutheran Bible Translators' staff and missionaries around the world.  Rob recently led music workshops in Eastern Europe (Kosovo and Albania).


A third thing our giving does is to provide Pastor Don with the ability to help people who are experiencing a crisis of some sort.  They might need help to keep the power on, or to pay the rent, or repair their car.  These funds let us be Jesus-with-skin-on to the community.


A fourth thing, and one of the biggest things we do as a church, is to pay our pastor so that he can speak God's word to us and our neighbors, in normal days and in the crises each of us faces sooner or later.


Before we wrap up, I want to share two things that are important about money and giving:


One, give with your heart.  Paul says, “You must each decide in your heart how much to give.  And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure.” (9:7)  Why the heart?  Because the heart is where joy lives.  Give out of joy.  Don't give because of a rule or out of guilt. 


Two, make a plan to give.  Giving is a decision.  Don't do it compulsively.  Sit down, talk with God, listen to your heart, and make a decision. 


The curious economics of Jesus, who though he was rich, became poor for our sake, so that we through his poverty might become rich.  Why?  So that we might give it away. 


“And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you.  Thank God for this gift” – this grace – “too wonderful for words.”  (9:15)