“LIVING BY THE SPIRIT”

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FEBRUARY 18th, 2018                                                                                 PASTOR DON PIEPER

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS                                                  Galatians 5:1,5-10,13-4; 5:16-26

 

                                                    “LIVING BY THE SPIRIT

 

            While waiting for the Spirit's leading from his home church in Antioch, Paul writes the first letter of many to come, this one to the four churches he just helped plant in southern Galatia. 

 

            He writes to them having heard some disturbing news.  “Evidently some people are throwing (them) into confusion by perverting the gospel of Christ.”  (Galatians 1:7)  Paul confronts this false gospel and those teaching and embracing it, reminding them how “God sent His Son to buy freedom for us who were slaves to (such teaching), so that he could adopt us as His very own children.  And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts...”  (Galatians 4:5-6)

 

            Now Paul maps out what this freedom looks like from day to day by talking about what it looks like to be led by the Holy Spirit.  “As we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”                                                                                                                                                    (Galatians 5:25)  

            Since coming to faith, Paul's been following the Spirit's lead.  He's saying, in effect, “walk this way!”  So what does this look like, to walk this way?  I did some research and came up with this...

            [U-tube video, “Walk This Way”]

 

            Okay..., maybe not.   So what does Paul mean that we are to led by the Spirit?  How do we walk this way?   Paul seeks to help his peers live out their spiritual freedom that Christ has granted them, stating, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!  Brothers & sisters, you were called to be free!”                                                                                                                                     (Galatians 5:1, 13)

            Free from what, one might ask.  Free from two things, really - freedom from being enslaved to sin and freedom from the false gospel they're suckered into, the false gospel of legalism, of having to do certain things, keep certain traditions, being good enough, to be made right with God.  It is this false teaching that Paul confronted in this letter: “Clearly no one is justified (made right) before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith'.  It is by faith in Christ that we receive the Spirit.”                                                                                                                                         (Galatians 3:11,14)

            So one area of enslavement is the slavery to deception, to the false gospels that spread like yeast thru Christian community.  As we discussed last week, they exist today as much as they did in Paul's day.  Copies of that message are in the back, or you can listen online... 

 

            Another area we need freedom from is our slavery to sin.  Our faith in Jesus saves us from the consequences of sin – eternal separation from God.  But even though we may trust in Jesus for our sal-vation, it doesn't mean we stop sinning.  We can not escape its grip simply by trying harder either or by having more rules or laws enforced.  As Paul points out: “Our sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit....  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” 

                                                                                                                                    (Galatians 5:16-17)

            Paul elaborates on this later in his letter to the churches in Rome: “I'm a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do! What a wretch I am!”

                                                                                                                                    (Romans 7:14-15,24)

            There, as here in Galatians, Paul points to the hope and freedom that Christ offers us from this wretched slavery:“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God and no longer slaves.”

                                                                                                                                    (Romans 8:14)

            Sounds familiar?  It echoes what he wrote first here to the Galatians: “So I say, live by the Spirit so you will not gratify the desires of your sinful nature.”  (Galatians 5:16) 

                                                                                    -2-

 

            So the means by which we live out our freedom from habitual sin is the same from which we live out our slavery to a legalistic approach to faith and other false teachings – by walking in the Spirit, and by seeking to actively express our faith through agape love, a love that is not based on sentiment or feelings, but on a decision to love – to love even when we don't feel like it!  As Paul writes: Let us follow the Spirit's leading in every part of our lives...,, so do not provoke one another...!

 

            How can we love the agape way?  By training to do so and by learning how to be led by the Spirit of Jesus, who modeled what it looks like by loving on pharisees, prostitutes and tax-collectors...!

            As Paul puts it, “Dear brothers and sisters, you were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself!'”  (Galatians 5:13-14/Mark 12:31)

 

            Paul is quoting Jesus there, by the way.  He's also urging us to train ourselves to freely love others, those outside the community of faith, by first actively loving those inside the family of faith. Throughout his letters, the references to brothers and sisters are always to those in the church.  The command here, as the sentence structure makes clear, is to train to love by serving one another in love.

 

            That's why getting involved in Christian community is so vital.  By making ourselves available, being reliable to perform certain tasks, that we train ourselves to overcome the urge to indulge our sinful nature..., by investing our time and energy doing something far more significant and ultimately rewarding – serving one another as Christ modeled the same among his disciples. 

 

            He modeled this when he fed the 5000, healed those who were hurting, washed his friends' feet, even serving them up breakfast following his resurrection.  As he so famously said, “(I) came not to be served but to serve, and to give (my) life as a ransom for many.”   (Mark 10:45)

 

            If we consider ourselves to be Christians, to be his followers, than we're to be in training to follow his lead in this area as in all other areas.  Serving one another is how we get trained!

 

            Let me celebrate two such servants among us.  Cheryl Wentworth and Debbie Slack.  Wherever I turn, there they are in service to all of us – whether that's cleaning the church, preparing the altar for worship, or helping to cook or clean up at Alpha – they are constantly in action, serving us in love!  If you aren't already, get involved.  Consider perhaps serving on Altar Guild, or cleaning crew or Alpha!

 

            Serving, as Jesus served, helps nurture his Spirit within us and the more we do so the more the fruit of the Spirit begins to blossum within and through us.  Such fruit doesn't occur by our adhering to certain rules or traditions, fruit grows over time.  As we serve, fruit happens! 

                                                                                   

            Paul also models and teaches Christ's followers to live by the Spirit by being led by the Spirit so that we can keep in step with the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25)  This also takes practice and training.

 

            By doing so, we can learn to overcome temptation.   “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but when you are tempted, He will provide a way out.”   

                                                                                                                                    (1 Corinthians 10:13)

            He does so in numerous ways but most often by nudging us in the Spirit.  In her book, The Helper, (one of the names in the New Testament for the Holy Spirit, by the way), Catherine Marshall tells of a young woman named, Betty, who'd been struggling for years to stop smoking. 

                                                                                    -3-

 

            One night she had a dream where she saw a hand with a lit cigarette in it.  Suddenly the hand vigorously stamped out the cigarette.  The next morning, while having breakfast Betty absent-mindedly lit a cigarette and put it to her lips but it tasted odd.  Stamping it out she suddenly recalled her dream.  The desire to light up vanished as she found herself wanting to use her hands to do something useful and productive.   As a result she began a ministry of sending cards to shutins.  The habit was broken. 

 

            For each person it works differently, but as we learn to recognize God's nudges, we experience how the Spirit is leading us out of distracting or destructive tendencies into new life.  He does the same in terms of opening doors for us to be of loving service to others.  Last week I had such a nudge.  My afternonon appointment had just left when one of you suddenly came to mind.  It was a nudge and so I called you only to learn that you'd dropped by the church and left me a note.  You assumed that I was calling but I didn't know about your note.  When I told you, tears flowed.  It was a divine appointment!

 

            In his book, Do What Jesus Did, Pastor Robby Dawkins writes: “To call ourselves Christ followers, to seek to do the things that Jesus did, means coming to terms with walking in His Spirit. Love was Jesus' weapon of choice, and He expressed His power in humility...,and in turn, teaching and empowering his followers to live by His Spirit.  It's a message of power and right living given to us in word, sign and deed, bu the heart of it is the simplicity of love.  This is the gospel of hope, a Kingdom in which beauty and power and righteousness extend from the heart of a servant King.  It's a message of love and humility from beginning to end – even as we carry and minister the presence and power of the Almighty God..., to set you and me free from fear and brokenness and shame, to give us His Spirit and build us up.  He came to release us...to renew the ruined cities in all the nations of the earth.” 

                                                                                                (from Robby Dawkins'  Do What Jesus Did)

            Robby tells of how he and few others from his church encountered a couple of prostitutes in an ER waiting room. They offered to pray but the women said, “No, no, we're good.” A thought occurred to him. Sensing it was a nudge Robby asked one of them, 'Do you have a son? Does he need prayer?'  She was taken back and said that's why they were there.   He'd been badly burned.

 

            “I'm afraid they're going to take him away because he was alone while I was working.”  They could see that she was shaken, troubled with guilt and fear.  He offered to pray for her and this time she agreed.  He allowed the Spirit to lead him in praying for other things as well. Then, placing his hand on her shoulder, he said, 'Would you look at me? You know what?  Jesus loves you.  He really loves you.'

 

            Suddenly she burst into tears.  At that point her friend started to cry as well.  One of the team followed suit.  Placing her hand on the womans' shoulder she said, “Jesus loves you too...!”  Christ's Spirit broke through their resistance, their pain and fear, and awakened the child of God within and everyone present was moved by Christ's presence and the power of His Spirit of love.   

 

            “The world is dying to hear that message of Christ's love and to experience the power of His love for them.  Christ's Spirit in us gives us the freedom to act like and to be Jesus to those around us.”

                                                                                                (from Robby Dawkins'  Do What Jesus Did)

            My brothers and sisters, you were called to be free, serving one another (and others) in love!  In this way, our faith becomes an adventure like no other, as we learn to live by the Spirit as we are led by the Spirit so that we can keep in step with the Spirit..., exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit! 

                                                                                                                        (Galatians 5:13,16,18,22,25)

JESUS – THE GREAT I AM

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FEBRUARY 14th, 2018                                                                                 PASTOR DON PIEPER

ASH WEDNESDAY                                                                         GEN 1:1-5; JOHN 1:1-9                  

JESUS – THE GREAT I AM                                                                        JOHN 3:19-21; 8:12;9:4-5                                                                                                                                                 /12:31-6, 44-6

                                                         “THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD”

 

            We began tonight's worship being reminded that, in the beginning, there was utter darkness.   And with this darkness there was a vast...emptyness, a deep and dark void.  But then God's rich, loving voice broke the silence and dispensed the darkness: “Let there be light”, God said, “and there was light!  And God saw that it was good!”  (Genesis 1:3-4)

            The Light was good.  It was not only good that there was light to illuminate what God was to create, but the Light itself was good.  It reflected God's goodness. 

 

            Later John would clarify that Theos, (the Greek word for God) was not alone, for “In the be-ginning was the Logos, (the Word), and the Logos was with Theos, and was Theos.  The Logos was with Theos in the beginning.  In Him was life, and that life brought light to everyone!”  (John 1:1-4)

 

            Theos and Logos were distinct yet one – and they had company.   For “the Spirit of God, was hovering over the deep.”(Genesis 1:2) The three were connected, and holy – a Holy Trinity!  In His reflection we're created with an unquenchable longing for connection, and meaning, and light. 

 

            But all is not as it was meant to be – not only in the world around us, but within us.  If we're honest, we'd have to confess that we have an affinity to the darkness.  And just as it was back in the beginning, before God's voice broke the silence, there exists a void, an emptyness, in its absence. 

 

            As Paul wrote...: “(We) know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to us.  For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky.  Through everything God made, we can see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature.  So we have no excuse for not knowing God.  Yes, we knew God, but we wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks.  We began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like.  As a result, our minds became dark...and confused.  We traded the truth about God for a lie. We worshiped and served things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen!” 

                                                                                                                                    (Romans 1:19-21, 25)

            Sound familiar?  Can you find yourself anywhere in Paul's description of the human condition, the tendency to let other pursuits take precedence over the pursuit of God and his goodness and light, to place on the altar of your time and affections, less emphasis on God than his creation?  The biblical un-derstanding of worship goes far beyond the singing of songs or the fulfillment of religious obligations – it is whatever has our heart, reflected in where we invest the most time and money! 

 

             Paul suggests that when anything takes precedent over the pursuit of God & seeking to glorify him, we are in great danger of having our hearts and minds get confused...and darkened. 

 

            Such darkness is not only a threat to those engaged in evil activities, but those who trade the truth for a lie, who pay more attention to what the world says then to what God says.  As the prophet Isaiah put it: “People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.  They go from one place to another, weary and hungry, and because they are hungry, they rage and curse their king and their God. They look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair.  They'll find themselves as exiles, wandering in the darkness.”                                                                                                                                           (Isaiah 8:20-22)

                                                                                    -2-

 

            One of the ways our minds wander is when we begin to cave in to the fear that we are missing out, that Christianity is inhibiting – that such a life-style causes us to miss out on the better things of life.  For some its the party life, others, personal ambition, or family time, or entitlement, or recreation, or creation itself.  

            But a life lived increasingly oblivious to God's goodness and presence becomes empty and void of all that we were meant to be and become – children of the light. 

 

            Pastor Wurmbrand tells of a communist Russian soldier who showed up at an underground ser-vice after being invited by a young woman in a railroad station. The pastor asked, How can I help you?

 

            The young man answered, “I have come for light.”  After the pastor read from the gospel of John, the man put his hand upon the pastor's hand and asked in earnest: “I ask you with all of my heart, don't lead me astray.  I belong to a people kept in the dark. Tell me, please, is truly God's Word?”

            That night the communist Russian soldier walked into the light...!

            The enemy's lies, and our inclination to buy into them, brought a curse, the curse that sin brings death – not only physical death but worse, spiritual death.  That's the kind of death in which our minds go dark, in which we forget who we are and whose we are, that we were created to reflect light not to pursue personal gratification but to pursue God and his kingdom, his reign among all peoples, evident in lives lived to his glory and in service and compassion to one another.  The enemy's lies bring on the curse of forgetting all that and risking being separated from the one who thought us up.  Jesus points to that curse in several of his parables in which a deceived person winds up in the darkness all alone, shivering, their teeth a-chattering, because they lost sight of what really matters – life with God! 

 

            But the Lord of lies and darkness does not get the last word.  As promised long ago: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine..., for the time of darkness and despair will not go on forever.”  (Isaiah 9:1-2) Skip to the end of the book, where we read about the redemption of all that God has created, and we glimpse this vision:  “No longer will there be a curse upon anything, for the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and His servants will worship him.  And they will see his face..., and there will be no night there, no darkness – no need for lamps or the sun – for the Lord will shine on them...forever!” 

                                                                                                                        (Revelation 22:3-4)

            So how do we get there?  How can we overcome the deception and darkness of the enemy?  How do we prevail over our selfish impulses, our carnal desires and fears of missing out?  We begin by realizing this light is no mere mystical force, but the Logos...in the flesh, and we let him in!   

 

            “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth!”  (John 1:14)  As Jesus said, “I am the light of the world!  If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life!”  (John 8:12)

           

            So pursuing Jesus, obeying his teachings and following his example, brings us true life – the kind of life that is full of his light.  He goes on to say that there is great urgency to this.  Time is short.

As he puts it: “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent me!” (John 9:4)    

 

            And again, he reiterates, “Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you.  Those who walk in darkness cannot see where they are going.  Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”               (John 12:35-36)

 

                                                                                    -3-

 

            I read an article in C.T. by a young woman who wrote about how her struggles with depression led her down a path of spiritual uncertainty.  Though she'd been raised in the church, the dark thoughts that plagued her tempted her to doubt that God is loving and just.  She also saw evidence of hypocrisy in the church she was raised in and so decided Jesus must be a myth, as she'd been told in school.  She chose an alternative lifestyle, dappled in new age spirituality, but the darkness within never abated. 

 

            At one point she felt an inner pull, a longing, to rediscover the God of her youth.  Her search led her to a church that focused on discipleship, on not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Convict-ed of her rebellious ways, she sought out Jesus anew, asking his help to let go...and let God.  She found that instead of it inhibiting her freedom he actually liberated her from the dark places she tended to go – both physically and mentally.  She shares this in an article entitled, 'Defeating Darkness Inside'.

 

            At one point Jesus further clarified what he was about when he said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” 

                                                                                                                                    (John 12:46)

            That's a clear articulation of his sense of purpose and mission.  He tells us in no uncertain terms, why he came – to shed light in this dark world so we can escape the dark!  In his light-filled statements we read tonight, it becomes clear that he shines this light upon and within us is so that we don't have to hide or fear exposure, nor pretend or distrust, living a lie or in fear that we are missing out somehow...  

 

            Jesus didn't come to restrict us but so that we may live joy-filled and abundant lives.  He comes to reveal the truth, as the embodiment of truth, that he truly is enough!  “I am...the great I am!” he declares, “and I am enough!  Let me show you!  Let me illuminate what the Father of lies and all those deceived by his lies, can never understand, overcome or snuff out!  I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that you never need to grapple to find your way!  So my friends, let the light in!” 

 

            How so?  Consider what John wrote in his letters to the early church: “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there's no darkness in him at all!  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but just go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellow-ship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 

 

            If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all darkness.” 

                                                                                                                                    (1 John 1:5-9)

            I read of a 19th century German church in which a woman was delivered of a dark spirit.  Her healing was so dramatic that it prompted the people in her church to recognize their own affinity to dark thoughts and deeds.  Soon the pastor and his staff were busy hearing confessions – and no, it was not a Catholic church!  Before long reports of the Spirit hovering over the place began to spread and people began to be healed of illnesses and injuries and the light of God broke in! 

 

            What that might look like here, I wonder?   What if we were to confess a sin that's had a hold of us with a friend here tonight.  My friends, let it go and let God cleanse you from all darkness...and let the light in!  Then come up, remembering your baptism..., and be marked with the sign of the cross....!

Galatian Greetings

FEBRUARY 11th, 2018                                                                                 PASTOR DON PIEPER

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS                 Galatians 1:1-7,11-12/3:1-5, 26-8; 4:5-7

 

                                                    “GALATIAN GREETINGS

 

            Last week we read of how Paul and Barnabas concluded their first mission trip into Asia Minor by returning to their home church in Antioch of Syria, where, Luke informs us, “they stayed with the believers there for a long time.”  (Acts 14:28) How long is not known for sure – but at least a year, maybe as long as three – long enough, to write the first of many epistles or letters Paul would pen.

 

            The first of these is that which we just read, his letter to the churches in Southern Galatia – the first four churches he & Barnabas planted in the cities of Antioch of Pisdia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. 

 

            Galatians, like most of his letters, is like a glimpse into his private journal, where his travels are revisited, and his thoughts and concerns are shared – kind of like Calvin's journal....

 

Calvin:            I feel I have an obligation to keep a journal of my thoughts.

Hobbes:           Oh?

Calvin:            Being a genius, my ideas are naturally more important and interesting than other                          people's, so I figure the world would benefit from a record of my mental activites.

Hobbes:           How philanthropic of you.

Calvin:            Well, the world isn't going to get it cheap.

Hobbes:           So what are you writing today?

Calvin:            I couldn't really think of anything, so I'm drawing some martians attacking Indianpolis.

                                                                                                (The Days Are Just Packed, p. 131)

            Yes, well, wasn't that insightful?   Paul, on the other hand, doesn't have any trouble thinking of what to write. Atypical of his other letters he opens not with a greeting but by immediately establishing his apostolic authority:“Paul, an apostle, sent not from men but by Jesus Christ and God the Father”                                                                                                                                    (Galatians 1:1)

            Apparently some Galatians were questioning his authority so he writes to clarify why he is an apostle, bearing the same authority as the twelve leading the church in Jerusalem: “I want you to know that the gospel I preached isn't something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation directly from Jesus Christ.”        (Galatians 1:11-12)

 

            The word, apostolos, was originally a term referring to naval ambassadors, but the early church applied it all 79 times its used to those personally commissioned by Christ as messengers of his gospel.

In response to attacks on his authority and message Paul recounts his conversion in chapter one.

 

            Another reason for his writing the letter, the main reason, shows up in his opening salutation.  Instead of opening with a word of praise for his fellow believers as he does in his other letters, even in his correctional letter to the churches in Corinth, Paul begins with a terse salutation to the Galatian Christians.  It reminds me of another letter of significant, historical value.... 

 

Calvin:            As a genius, it's important that I write a lot of letters... After all, my correspondence will

                        be the basic resource material for historians to reconstruct my life.  My writing will                                  provide countless, fascinating insights for biographers.

Hobbes:           Such as how all your salutations begin, “Hey boogerbrain”?

Calvin:            It's been three weeks and I still haven't received my x-ray glasses!  ( p. 135)

 

                                                                                    -2-                               

 

            Okay, maybe Paul doesn't call them boogerbrains  but he does address them at one point as, anoetos - “You foolish Galatians!”  (Galatians 3:1)  Anoetos doesn't mean foolish as in stupid or ignorant but rather the kind of foolishness in which one fails to use one's powers of perception.  It's the kind of foolishness a parent chastises their child for, for doing something in which they know better.

 

            Paul doesn't mince words here.  As he puts it, “I am astonished that you are so quickly desert-ing the one who called you by the grace of Christ...”  (Galatians 1:6)  The Greek here is revealing as well.  The Greek word, metatithesthe, translated, deserting, is a colorful term used at times to speak of a reversal of attitude or opinion, or, of a military desertion, a serious crime then as it is now.  Paul uses that term very deliberately to show just how serious their attitude reversal is!  They're deserting God!

 

            This gets to the heart of the Galatian issue.  Paul addresses it on two fronts.  First, that of their Galatian gullibility.  That is, they're allowing themselves to be fooled.   As it reads in the NLT: “You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.”  (Galatians 1:7)

 

            The writing was on the wall during their initial visit..: “Some of the Jews...slandered Paul and argued against whatever he said” in Antioch of Pisdia.  (Acts 13:45) And in Iconium: “Some of the Jews spurned God's message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiless against Paul and Barnabas...(and so) the people were divided in their opinion about them.”  (Acts 14:2,4)  And again, in Lystra: “Some Jews from Antioch and Iconium won the crowds in Lystra to their side.”       (Acts 14:19)

                                                                                                                                               

            So first, Paul points out how gullible they are, to slander and deceit.  Second, he addresses the nature of the lie they are so quickly deserting Christ's gospel of grace for – a false gospel, “which is no gospel at all”, as Paul points out. (Galatians 1:7)   It's what Paul calls a perverted or false gospel. 

 

            In the following chapter, Paul goes right at it, even holding Peter & James accountable: “When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, 'Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?  We know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. For if by keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die!”         (Galatians 2:14,16, 21)

           

            Peter and Paul later reconcile at the Jerusalem council we'll read about in two weeks but Paul rightly takes issue with this false gospel at loose in Galatia. The perversion of the gospel, Paul suggests, is the greatest threat to the church.  As one scholar put it: “The greatest danger facing the church is not its adversaries on the outside, but those who from within seek to change or alter the gospel message.” (James Boice)  As Peter himself will later write: “There'll be false teachers among you who'll cleverly teach destructive heresies; many will follow their false teaching and the truth will be slandered.”                                                                                                                                           (2 Peter 2:1-2)

            The Galatian confusion won't be the last false gospel to threaten the early church.  John's gospel and letters were written to confront another – that of gnosticism, which has returned thru the popularity of new ageism and books like Dan Brown's, The Da Vinci Code.   Gnosticism, from the Greek word, gnosis, meaning wisdom, taught that Jesus wasn't divine, he just had divine wisdom.  Sophia, Hebrew for wisdom, then was elevated to being the greater god, and was and is worshipped as such. 

 

            The false gospel of gnosticism is causing spiritual confusion again today but is only one of several such false gospels threatening the church today! 

                                                                                    -3-

            Another is that of liberal theology.  The name, though, is misleading causing many confuse it with liberal politics but many who hold a liberal, political perspective embrace a conservative or ortho-dox read of scripture.  A better label would be that of redaction theology as the adherents to this teach-ing tend to embrace a revisional approach to biblical interpretation.  I was exposed to this in seminary where a number of stories in places like Genesis, Job, Jonah & the gospels are considered myths.

 

            In one cless, a professor referred to a quote from Jesus in Matthew, and told us, that particular passage we know Jesus actually said. Confused I said that seemed to imply that there were other quotes from Jesus in Matthew that he may not have said, to which he answered, “that's right, Pieper!”

 

            A pastor at Holden Village this past summer said new evidence shows that Jesus wasn't born in the city of Bethlehem and that his virgin birth was a metaphor.  That's redactive or revisional theology.  Such teachings in our churches, universities and seminaries undermine biblical authority and have become more the norm than the exception, all of which leads down a very slippery slope indeed. 

 

            A third false gospel popular these days is the Prosperity Gospel, “a religious belief among some Christians who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for faithful believers and that faith, positive attitude and donations to religious causes will increase one's wealth.   In short, if humans have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity.”   

                                                                                                                                    (Wikipedia defintion)

            It's origins date back to the late 19th century with proponets like Andrew Carnegie, experienced a rebirth with the preaching of TV evangelists like Oral Roberts and Jim Baker in the 1980's and has hit the mainstream as of late thru popular speakers like Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen and Paula White. 

 

            It is popular in today's affluent cultures and totally absent beyond them.  Most reject it for being irresponsible, promoting idolatry and out-right contrary to Scripture, particularly the teachings of Jesus: God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!

                                                                                                                                                (Matthew 5:3) 

            A 4th false gospel prevalent today doesn't really have a name, but falls under something called American Civil Religion.   It's roots are in the idealogy of manifest destiny – that America holds God's unique favor over and against every other nation on earth.  Not only is that incredibly arrogant but it's also wholely unbiblical.  As Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son...”      

(John 3:16)  And, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations...”  (Matt. 28:19) As we've seen, Paul's home church in Antioch was multi-ethnic – Africans, Greeks, Romans, Syrians & Jews...

 

            As our country's become polarized along political lines we tend to articulate certain idealogies that reflect the view that our political party of choice is the Christian party.  I've heard prayers on occasion here that reflect that kind of thinking.  But if we're not careful we'll let what's ripping this country apart do the same thing here, thereby compromising our witness to those we hope to reach. 

 

            Worse yet, we'll become enslaved, as were the Galatian Christians, to a belief that we're better than others because we're more religious, or because of our traditions,....or our politics.  But we are not made righteous by anything we do, or by any political position we embrace!  We're righteous because of who we have placed our trust in.  We're made right with God by what He has done for us in Jesus!

 

            “God sent him to buy our freedom for us who were slaves..., so that He could adopt us as His very own children...”  (Galatians 4:5)  And if we are his children then we are family, whether we agree in all matters social or political or not, and as family we're to live in harmony with one another. 

                                                                                    -4- 

 

            For there's no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female,(Democrat or Republican) – for you are all one in Christ Jesus! And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to cry out, 'Dad', (I am yours!  Thank you that I am no longer a slave...but your very own child, and heir to your Kingdom...!)”   (Galatians 3:28; 4:6-7)

 

            With His Spirit alive within us, empowering us to do what he did, loving on those around us,  including those who are different than us, praying for his healing of broken bodies and wounded souls, to the glory of God and by his power according to his will, we seek to fulfill Jesus' empassioned prayer:

 

            “I pray, Father, that they will all be one, just as you and I are one...!  And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me!  May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me!”   (John 17:21, 23)

           

            Lord, we pray, 'May it be so!  Help us make it so!  May our unity...be a powerful witness...!'

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS ACTS 13:44-14:7; 14:8-28

FEBRUARY 4th, 2018                                                                                   PASTOR DON PIEPER

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS                                                              ACTS 13:44-14:7; 14:8-28

 

                                                            “THERE AND BACK AGAIN!

 

            Two weeks ago we set out with Paul and Barnabas as they were sent out by the Holy Spirit from Antioch of Syria on Paul's first mission trip.  (Acts 13:4)  Having proclaimed the Good News... and making many disciples, (Acts 14:21) all across Asia Minor, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. (14:26)   Paul and Barnabas have been there and back again!              Sounds familiar....      [DVD clip from the film, Return of the King, 3:02:20 – 3:02:52]

 

            This portion of Acts is the story of Paul and his traveling buddies, and how they come and go in the telling of it.  As we conclude Paul's first such adventure let's pause to recap a few highlights. 

 

            Having been sent from the multi-ethnic church in Antioch, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas go first to the island of Cyprus, hooking up with John Mark on the eastern port of Sala-mis.   Preaching from town to town, traveling east to west, they spread the word across the island. 

            The response was, (yawn), underwhelming.  Their only convert was Sergius Paulus, the gover-nor of Paphos, on the far end of the island.  Not to be deterred, they set sail for the port of Perga...

 

            Actually, John Mark was deterred.  He got wet feet, abandoned ship and sailed off to Jerusalem.  We don't know if his wet feet were from bathing in the Mediterranean, missing his momma, or the treacherous Taurus Mountains seen from Perga but John Mark said, nothing doing, and bravely fled...!  “When fear raised its ugly head, sir Marcus turned and bravely fled!  Bravely fled sir Marcus...!”

           

            So Barnabas and Paul hiked up to Antioch of Pisidia without him.  Ed informed us that all these cities named Antioch were named after one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antiochus...Nautiness... Maximus.  He was very naughty and plotted against Alexander and his young son...    Anyway....

            Paul preached a powerful sermon in the Antioch synagogue.   Luke informs us, that “the following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord.” 

                                                                                                                                                (Acts 13:44)

            It was the most phenomenal response to Paul's preaching to date! But not everyone agreed.  The Jewish leaders, jealous of their popularity, slandered Paul & Barnabas and ran them out of town.   In sync with Jesus' instructions, they shook the dust from their sandles and headed southeast to Iconium.  As Paul put it: “you have judged yourselves (spiritually dirty), unworthy of eternal life!” (Acts 13:46)

 

            “When the Gentiles heard this, they realized they'd been chosen and became believers... They then were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.  (13:48, 52)  God had shown them favor.  Their joy was multiplied as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Now they'd do what Paul and Barnabas were doing! 

                                                                                   

            On to Iconium, the largest city in Paul's first mission trip.  It was a major hub of the ancient world, found along the Via Sebaste, the imperial highway stretching from Ephesus to Syria.  Sebaste was the Greek equivalent of the Latin, Augusta, so named to honor Caesar Augustus.  As in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas headed first to the synagogue to preach to the Jews gathering for worship. It must've been powerful as “a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers”.   (Acts 14:1)

 

            Here we see an inspired methodology developing.  They preach first to the Jews then to the Gentiles and as they do so, they count on the Holy Spirit to confirm their message.  As Luke notes: “the Lord proved their message by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders.”  (14:3)

                                                                                    -2-

 

            But as in Antioch, their words and actions trigger an adverse reaction among their adversaries who not only poison the minds of the Gentiles with lies and slander but seek to kill them.   Again, Paul and Barnabas exit stage left, and head down the Via Sebaste to the next  town, Lystra. 

 

            Lystra is a Roman colony, with no Jewish presence, so Paul and Barnabas start by relying on God's power to gain an audience, healing a cripple they encounter there. But there's a legend told by the Roman poet, Ovid, that states that ages ago the Greek gods, Zeus and Hermes, appeared in disguise and were treated with contempt by all in the city save for a poor blind man and his wife. As the legend went only the elderly couple were sparred and survived Zeus' wrath. 

 

            Seeing their power to heal, the Lystrian pagans assume Paul and Barnabas are these Greek gods in disguise. To calm them down and dissuade them, Paul quotes not scripture, as he does with the Jews, but points to the Creator's handiwork and goodness.  But before he can finish his message, which he'll later revisit in pagan Athens, the jealous Jews from the previous two cities show up, hurl stones at him, and leave him for dead.  Miraculously he survives, a fact that has a profound impact on the pagans, a few of whom come to faith, as we're told that a group of disciples gathered around him. (Acts 14:20)     Among them was a young man named, Timothy, a fact Luke alludes to later when he tells us that “Paul returned to...Lystra where there was a young disciple named, Timothy.” (Acts 16:1)  This young man will be Paul's protege', recipient of his letters and play a major role in the early church.  

 

            Paul and Barnabas leave the next day, heading down the Via Sebaste to another Roman colony where they have some success, “making many disciples there in Derbe”  (Acts 14:21)  So in spite of being booted out of three towns, back to back, the Jesus movement has taken root in all four cities! 

                                                                                   

            Luke then tells us of an amazing decision they apparently made there in Derbe: 'Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch of Pisida, where they strengthened the believers.'

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 14:21-22)

            Look at the map.  Look how close they are to Paul's home town of Tarsus and to their home church in Antioch of Syria.  They could've finished the loop very easily but instead, they retrace their steps and head straight back into the hornet's nest where they were just attacked!  They do so, in spite of the danger, because they know these infant Christians need discipling.  And so, thats what they do, encouraging them to continue in the faith, reminding them to endure suffering for the sake of Christ and his gospel.  Only after appointing elders with prayer and fasting do they end their eventful first missionary trip by heading back to their home church by way of Perga and Attalia. 

 

            Their methodolgy, or strategy for winning others to Christ, has three key elements.  First, they always go to the synagogues first.  As Paul puts it, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to (the) Jews...and (afterwards) we'll offer it to the Gentiles.”  (Acts 13:46)

 

            They go first to their peers, those they have the most in common with.  They start on familiar ground.  Eventually, they also offer it to those whose ways are foreign to them.  Not a bad approach.  Start by witnessing to those you know or have common ground and then move on to engage those you don't.  That was how God led us here, too.  We'd been offering the Alpha Course for years before we began sending teams abroad.  Most invite friends & family to Alpha before reaching out to others...

 

            Second, Paul follows Jesus' lead, helping people move from the crowd to the core.  Jesus spoke to and loved on those in the crowds that came out to check him out, to observe.  They were...observers. 

                                                                                    -3-

            Likewise, Luke tells us a huge crowd “turned out to hear Paul and Barnabas preach the word of the Lord”  (Acts 13:44)  They were curious.   They came to observe.  From that crowd some became interested. They moved from observers to seekers.  They recognized there was something missing...and the message they heard resonated with them.  They came seeking.  Nicodemus was such a seeker.  He realized Jesus possessed something he lacked and he sought Jesus out.  So did Nathaniel, asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  And his friend, Phillip's response?  “Come and see!”

                                                                                                                                    (John 1:46-47)

            So it was with Tim.  He'd heard some things that made him curious.  His wife Crystal and he wound up on an Alpha Course.  They came to see.  They observed for a bit & began seeking in earnest.                                                                                                              

            Some such seekers start to embrace the truth of the gospel and move from seekers to believers. When the Gentile-seekers in Antioch heard that Paul had been sent as a light to the Gentiles, they were thankful for the Lord's message (of grace) and...became believers.  (Acts 13:48)  

 

            The reason Paul & Barnabas headed back into the hornet's nest was to help these new believers move from mere believers to committed followers, and true followers are those living out Jesus' com-mand to be disciple-makers. These were those that Paul and Barnabas appointed as elders in every church.  (Acts 14:23)  Their job would be to further instruct and strengthen others to become disciple-makers like them, and Paul and Barnabas before them.   Each of us are called to duplicate ourselves. 

            {“Piotr, a 20 year old Russian soldier, came to faith thru another soldier.  The Communist Russian soldiers were not only converted but became missionaries in the Underground Church.” }

            That's our mission here: to welcome the observer, encourage the seeker, strengthen the believer, equip Jesus' followers to become disciple-makers. Paul and Barnabas helped the Jesus' movement catch fire in Asia Minor and we seek to do the same here, helping people move from the crowd to the core! 

 

            Third, they relied on the presence & power of the Holy Spirit. The signs & wonders mentioned here are not isolated events but are representative of their dependence on the Spirit to impact the lives they're witnessing to with the very power of God, the same power in which Jesus healed cripples and cast out demons, and removed the scales from Saul's eyes.  That same power dwells in the heart of every believer and is the means by which “the Lord (Jesus) proves (our) message is true, by giving (us) power to do miraculous signs and wonders.”  (Acts 14:3) 

 

            We access that power through our faith in Jesus and through prayer!  Remember the hobbits?  Frodo leaves his friend, Sam, with some wise words.   Check it out...

            [DVD clip from Return of the King; 3:10:50 – 3:11:50]

            You have to be whole.  That's what we're seeking after isn't it?  We observe others who are becoming whole and we realize how much we need that too, so we move from observers to believers.

 

            But its one thing to believe its true and another to actively follow The Way of Jesus.  If we're wise, we keep moving inward, and become active followers, which is what the word, 'Christian', really means.  As we do, his spirit fills us with joy, the joy of giving him away.  By following him, you have so much to enjoy and to be...and to do.  You're part in Jesus' story...will go on.  And those who really grasp it seek to pass it along, to help others move in it, trusting his Spirit to transform us into disciple-makers.  It's a feeling of coming home...to Jesus.  As Sam says, I'm back!

 

            I pray that like the apostles in Iconium or in Antioch, you may come “to stay here a long time, boldly sharing with others the grace of the Lord, and that the Lord may prove that message is ab-solutely true, by giving you, by giving us, the power to miraculous signs and wonders!”  (Acts 14:3)

“From Antioch to Antioch.”

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Sermon 01282018

“From Antioch to Antioch.”

Two Antiochs…

Antiochus…

We don’t know why they made this difficult journey; we’re not told. 

We hear for the first time Saul, now Paul, preaching to the people. 

He’s in the synagogue, speaking to Jewish believers.  *It’s what they did in each city. 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  Romans 1:16

It was to the Jews that promises were given and covenants were made.  So it is appropriate that Paul should go there first.  The Jews have the background in their scriptures. 

Paul makes an argument meant to convince the mind - an argument from the scriptures.  From their history. 

He mentions promises made to David were about his descendant. 

He tells them that “forgiveness of sins – (justification) – is proclaimed for you!“

The point he makes is:

            Through Jesus, everyone who believes is justified. 

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39 (ESV)

            The law of Moses could not do this for them. 

                        Only Jesus 

                        Only He lives. 

                        Only He is our High Priest; interceding for us with the Father.

They would be aware that the law could not free them.  They would know that, in reality, they could not keep the law.  Those who said that they were righteous by keeping the law were fooling themselves. 

Paul gets right to the heart of the matter,

Through Jesus, everyone who believes is justified. 

This is a radical thought.  They could do nothing, but just believe in Jesus’ work for them.  It’s pure grace. 

He offers a warning!  *

            “‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”  Acts 13:41 

We will see next that the scoffers did, in fact, arise.  *

When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him… the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.  Acts 13:45, 50-51 

They reject God’s grace for something else. 

I don’t know what ultimately happened to the church and people in Antioch.  We’re not told.  I hope that like Paul, they who rejected the Word out of jealousy or whatever, would come to know the truth and be saved.  But I don’t know. 

Despite this, there was belief, Luke writes…*

Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:  “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.  And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.  Acts 13:46-49, 52

So we see the proclamation of the Gospel had an effect, just not on the people to whom it was first proclaimed! 

Last week Pastor Don talked to us about doing God’s work telling others about Jesus.  He noted that Saul/Paul apparently had no success to this point; nothing is recorded about people coming to faith.  Pastor Don told us that God is responsible for results; we are responsible for speaking out. 

It’s like the farmer who does everything to maximize the opportunity for the seed to grow, he waters, fertilizes, pulls the weeds, but he can’t make the plant grow.  We can’t make faith occur.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that. 

But we can do our part.  We can say like Jesus did, “Come and see.” 

Over the years, I’ve invited people to Alpha.  Most have not come.  I did what I could do.  I continue to pray for them, and wait to re-invite.  Many of the people I’ve invited, I believe, don’t feel that they have a need for this Christianity stuff.  They live good lives, they have it together.  They’re good people. 

They are good people.  And sinners too. 

We see that the scoffers in Antioch were motivated by jealousy; today’s scoffers reject Christ because they believe that they don’t need Him.  He is superfluous to their lives. 

Many reject Jesus because He is associated with the mainstream of society, and they are searching for their own reality, their own truth. 

I think that we have better impact today with those in prison, addicted, in trouble, marriage on the rocks, because they are aware of their need for help.  They’ve got issues they can’t handle.  They are like the Gentiles who believed they were without hope, without a way out from their sin. Paul and Barnabas offered them that hope. 

When I first read the scripture readings for today, I read, as I always do, from the NIV.  I use the NIV because I began reading from it long ago and am working to put in into my head.  God’s word is the “Sword of the Spirit”.  How can you use the sword if you don’t have access to it?  To have access to it every day, you have to have it in your head.  That’s what I try and do. 

What I read in the NIV was this:  *

“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39 (NIV)

set free from every sin”

This means more, (and meant more when I read it), then merely justification.  (Explain)

Justification and power to be free from sinning…

After reading the Greek… (used ESV)  Accuracy v. NIV.

ἄφεσις – “set free”.  Used 17 times 15 to mean forgiveness, twice to mean release – release for prisoners. 

So while Paul told the people of Antioch about salvation from sin through Christ rather than through the law, equating it to atonement, I also read about God’s power to act against us sinning in the first place.  Being set free from sinning. 

Paul will write to the Galatian church to correct some of their problems. *  He says this: 

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.   Galatians 5:16-24 (ESV)

Crucifying the flesh with Jesus help.  It comes through the power of Jesus.  Through the Holy Spirit living in the believer. 

One of things that is effective about the Alpha course, is that during the course, people come to meet Jesus.  Many have an experience of the Holy Spirit, and this changes their lives. 

Meeting Jesus

            Paul did

He experienced His power. 

Now, today, where people have no background in things of faith, more than ever they need an experience of the power of Christ. 

The first scripture reading I offered today is that little bit from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. *  Here it is again: 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  Romans 1:16

Initially I emphasized the fact that at first the Gospel was preached to Jews and then to Gentiles.  Now the emphasis is on the “Power of God”, that is that God comes in a mysterious, miraculous, mighty way to change lives, to save, to heal, to make holy.  That’s God work. 

Last week in Alpha we heard from a guy named Darrell Tunningsley. (Story)

“If I’m gonna be bad, I’m gonna be the best kind of bad I can possibly be.” 

(Clip 20:06 – 21;55)

That’s the power of God!

Paul writes to Timothy about the times we are in:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  2 Timothy 3:1-4

Denying the power of God is epidemic in our society.  People see the church as a club like the Elks.  Or they see it as some group of haters passing judgement on others.  If you focused on the laundry list of society’s ills which I just read, you might think that.  After all, aren’t those things described about our society today? 

People don’t see the church as a place where healing takes place, where lives are mended by a powerful and loving God.  Like those I have invited, who never come, they believe that Jesus is superfluous to their lives. 

The truth is, people do have needs that Jesus can and will meet.  Many people are without a sense of meaning in their lives.  They wake up, work, eat, sleep, and to what end?  I talked to a guy at work years ago who got a promotion to our HQ.  I asked him what the point of it all was, the move, uprooting his family, doing a job he disliked.  He thought I was crazy.  What was the point?  To make more money, have more stuff. 

“He who dies with the most toys, wins!” 

Is there meaning in stuff?  In truth, only Jesus gives us meaning.  Real meaning, a real mission, a mission with eternal impact. 

People have a need to belong.  We are alienated in our lives.  Jesus calls us into community, even more, into family.  Around me, right now, are my brothers and sisters.  Across the world a family.  People who care for one another and for others.  It’s a special kind of love which is rooted in Jesus’ love for us. 

These things are something that the world cannot provide.  Cannot replicate.  The power of Christ breaks down barriers between the artificial walls erected by the world.  Race, class, nationality, sex, status, these are things that divide.  Jesus is the one who can, and does unite. 

Last night my wife asked what I was preaching about today.  I told her and she commented that people also don’t accept the call to faith because of fear.  Fear of change.  Fear of leaving the things we believe have value.  Fear of other’s opinions.  Fear of the unknown.  St. John writes that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear.”  1John4:18

Like Darrell Tunningsley, who got loved into faith, we are surrounded by people who need the love only Jesus can give. 

In my last job, I would encounter people who had a problem with the law, and I would seek their help.  I would offer them help with their problem, if they helped me.  I used to remark that I didn’t need to “sell” this to them, the offer “sold itself”.  So it is with the offer Jesus has for our community, our world. 

His forgiveness offered free of charge, His power to live a victorious life, an end to fear, and the twin offers of meaning and family, sell themselves to a world hungry for these things.  Jesus’ offer is unparalleled in the world.  You have that offer for people, so, go out and love people into the Kingdom.  Find the Darrell Tunningsley’s in the world.  Be like Paul. 

 

 

 

“CALLED TO BE SENT”

JANUARY 21st, 2018                                                                                    PASTOR DON PIEPER

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS                                      ACTS 9:22-30;11:19-21/ 11:-25-6; 13:1-12

 

                                                            “CALLED TO BE SENT

 

            Last week we began a new series, walking, as it were, in the footprints of Paul.  We started by reading about how Paul, or Saul, as he was originally known, encountered Jesus on the road to Damas-cus, where Saul intended to arrest and haul back in chains to Jerusalem any belivers he found there.

 

            But Jesus had other plans for Saul.  Having blinded him in a bright light, Jesus sent a disciple by the name of Ananias to Straight street to set Saul straight, so to speak.  Reminds me of a Facebook post Nicola sent me that features a Canadian subdivision with the streets: This St., That St. & the Other St.

            So is this Straight Street, that street?

                        No, it's the Other Street.    

            Oh, I thought the Other Street was that street.

                        No, that street is near This Street.

            This Street....or Straight Street?

                        No, the Other Street. 

            What other street?

                        The street near This Street.

            But which street is Straight Street? 

                        Oh, that would be were their feet meet!

 

            Oh....   Did you get all that?  Anyway, when Ananias laid his hands on him, Saul's sight is re-stored, he's filled with the Holy Spirit, was baptized and then sent out as Jesus' ambassador.  That's where we pick up, but as we do, it's easy to get confused as to which street he takes from there, for walking in Paul's footprints, where his feet meet the street, involves a lot of coming and going, and going and coming, and Luke, the author of Acts, leaves some details out! 

 

            It would be helpful to have a map to figure it all out. I wonder where we could find such a map..

Calvin:            Ok, the map says to turn left at this tree and walk 30 paces.

Hobbes:           ...29..., 20.  So what's here? 

Calvin:            My map shows a big hole. 

Hobbes:           Wouldn't it be faster to make the map conform to the yard?

Calvin:            Are you in some sort of hurry?                                   (from It's A Magical World, p. 66)

 

            Okay..., wrong kind of map.  Fortunately, many Bible translations today provide various maps, like this one from the New Living Translation.  I've added some arrows to help provide clarity, because as noted, Luke leaves out some of Saul's earliest travels.  We know this by cross-referencing with the letters he wrote to the early church.  He fills in this blank in the very first letter he wrote...:

            “I did not initially go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus. After those first three years, I then went to Jerusalem and stayed with Peter for fifteen days...”           (Galatians 1:17-18)

                                                                                   

            So there's a missing piece in Luke's travel log – Saul's trip to Arabia – hinted at in Acts 9:23, with the words, “After a while...”, a phrase that often indicates a significant passage of time.  The verse reads, “After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him.  They were watching for him day and night at the city gate.” (Acts 2:23-24) Why were they watching for him there?  Either to catch him returning from Arabia, or having snuck in, to keep him from escaping. 

                                                                                    -2-

 

            Back to the map.   Saul traveled from Jerusalem to Damascus and met Jesus along the way. Having been straightened out on Straight Street, he heads into Arabia, then, after 3 years, he returns to Damascus, where, escaping in a basket,he flees to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James. Having triggered an adverse reaction there to his preaching, he flees to Caesarea, and from there to his hometown in Tarsus, where some time later, Barnabas shows up to bring Saul down to join the church in Antioch. 

 

            This section in Acts, though, is no mere travel log.  It reads more like an action novel.  It could be titled, “The Adventures of Peter and Paul”, as Luke bounces back and forth between the two.  There are back to back plots to murder Saul in Damascus and then in Jerusalem, the first of which includes Saul's harrowing escape through a gap in the city wall inside a basket in the dead of night.  Paul's refer-ence to that event in his Corinthian letters reveals what a basket case he was after that!  

            “I'd rather tell you about the things that show how weak I am...!  In Damascus...I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape King Aretas!”  (2 Corinthians 11:33)

 

            Luke follows that up with a story of Peter raising a young woman from  the dead, and then of a powerful second Pentecost event in which a Roman...and his household are all filled with the Spirit! 

 

            Then Luke bounces back to tell about the birth of the church in Antioch, and how “the power of the Lord was with them!” (Acts 11:21)  It was a historic moment as we're told that “it was at Antioch that the believers  were first called Christians.”  (Acts 11:26) 

 

            Luke then bounces back to tell how of Peter's great prison escape, in which he is led by an angel “past the first and second guard posts, and as they approached the iron gate, it opened by itself...!” 

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 12:10)

            This is the last we're told of Peter as the stage is now set, for Saul to be unleashed from Antioch, where after a year of inspired teaching and preaching, a prayer meeting is called among the leaders of the church: “Barnabas, Simeon the Niger, (“the black man”), Lucius from Cyrene, Manean, a child-hood friend of King Herod Antipas, and Saul”.  (Acts 13:1)  It's quite the electic group.  Barnabas is mentioned first, indicating he is the church's primary leader.  He's first mentioned back in chapter four. 

 

            After a prayer meeting in Jerusalem in which Peter and John and the other believers were all filled with the Holy Spirit, one of them, a man “from the tribe of Levi, who came from the island of Cyprus, sold his property and brought the money to the apostles.  His name was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas, (which means 'Son of Encouragement').”  (Acts 4:36-37)

                                                                                   

            Second in the list is Simeon, a man of color from Africa.  Third, is Lucius, a Roman name who originates from Cyrene, a Roman provence.  Fourth is Manean, a member of the royal household of Judea, and fifth, and last, Saul, a former pharisees.   We're given their names to show how diverse this church in Antioch already was!  As they pray and fast and worship together the Spirit moves among them to reveal God's next move – to send Barnabas and Saul into the mission field. 

            Note who's ultimately in charge here, not only of the church in Antioch, but of this sending out to evangelize across the Roman empire - “Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit!” 

                                                                                                                                                (Acts 13:4)

            They are joined by another key Kingdom player, who joins them once they reach Salamis, the nearest port on the Island of Cyprus.  His name is John Mark.  Most biblical scholars believe this to be none other than the author of the Gospel of Mark.  The three of them make their way across Cyprus, “traveling from town to town across the entire island...preaching the Word of God...”  (Acts 13:23)

                                                                                    -3- 

 

            But wait a minute!  Did I miss something?  Paul is considered the greatest missionary of all time.  He planted churches all over Asia Minor and the ancient Roman empire.  He authored over two-thirds of the New Testament.  Isn't Luke forgetting something here? 

 

            I went back and checked.  Sure enough, up to this point, there's not a single convert. We've been told repeatedly about Saul's bold and powerful preaching but not once has Luke mentioned anyone agreeing with him or joining the ranks of the Way!  Luke simply states that “all who heard him were amazed!”  (Acts 9:20-21)  Amazed but noone believed or was baptized. 

 

            Throughout the Book of Acts, Luke never hesitates to tell us when people come to faith, are filled with the Holy Spirit, or are baptized in Jesus' name.  But not once until to the conversion of Governor Sergius Paulus in Paphos, on the far side of Cyrpus, do we hear those familiar words, “he became a believer”(Acts 13:12)  It's been 10-12 years since Saul's first sermon in that Damascus synagogue!   It makes one wonder why he was chosen to accompany Barnabas in the first place...! 

 

            So what do you make of that?  Was Saul initially a failure?  Not from God's perspective!  As Jesus revealed to him: “You are my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to rulers and to the people of Israel!” (Acts 9:15)  Notice that Jesus doesn't hold Paul accountable for how people respond.  His mission isn't to change people – that's God's job, the work of his powerful and life-giving Spirit.  Paul's success was not determined by how many converts he made but by his being obedient to his being called to be sent, and his perseverance and refusal to give up.  So it is with us as well.  We succeed by obeying!  As Jesus articulated it in the gospel Paul's assistant would later write: “Go into all the world and share the Good News to everyone!”              (Mark 16:15)

 

            So we go...and share, in word and deed!  From Paul we learn to not give up.  Some will respond like Elymas of Paphos, with scepticism and by trying to hinder those in their circle of influence from believing...  Others will respond like Governor Paulus, who, “when he saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.”  (Acts 13:12)

 

            Notice how he came to faith.  It was a combination of his seeing the power of the Holy Spirit at work and his hearing that this power was that of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.  It's what John Winber calls, 'power evangelism'.  We access that power through faith and prayer!  It's why we, like Peter and Paul and Barnabas, need to continually seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not for the sake of the manifestations of the Spirit, but for the sake that by whatever means possible, we may save a few.

 

            As Jesus commanded and promised: “Go into all the world and share the Good News with everyone..., and miraculous signs will accompany those who believe.  They will cast out demons in my name, speak in new languages...and will place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed!”

                                                                                                                                    (Mark 16:15-18)

            That's what we're called to do, for we too are called to be sent, to do what Jesus did, what Peter and Paul and Barnabas did, for we are Christians, Christ-followers, following his lead, as he leads us by his living Spirit – just as “Barnabas and (Paul) were sent out by the Holy Spirit!”   (Acts 13:4)

“FROM SAUL TO PAUL” (Sorry No Audio File Avalible this week)

JANUARY 14th, 2018                                                                                    PASTOR DON PIEPER

IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS                                                              ACTS 9:1-9; 10-21a

                                                            “FROM SAUL TO PAUL

 

            This morning we step out and into the footprints of Paul – only in this first reading, he's still Saul, and his footprints heading to Damascus are not to make Christians but to arrest, even kill them. 

 

            Luke tells us that he doesn't go alone. 'Some men traveled with Saul.'(Acts 9:7) Who are they?  Are they his friends or merely folks from Damascus on their way home?  Was it by choice or by cir-cumstance that they traveled with Saul?  Seems to me that it's wise to know your traveling buddy.

 

            Years ago the story of Jonah was told by the Veggie Tales characters.  Jonah, played by a large cucumber, is heading the wrong direction, kind of like Saul, and gets hooked up Carlye, his new travel-ing buddy.  To identify himself, the strange looking fellow explains, “My mother was a caterpillar but my father was a worm – but I'm okay with that now.”   

            As it turns out, Carlyle's a big fan of Jonah.  He even has a Jonah doll that when squeezed, says, “A message from the Lord.”  Very nice, but as it turns out, he's a slightly, annoying traveling buddy...  

 

            Maybe like me, you're a big fan of this guy heading to Damascus.  But what do we really know about him as we hit the road, walking in his footprints, as it were, as his proverbial traveling buddies? 

 

            He's identified to Ananias simply as “a man from Tarsus named Saul.” (9:11)  Ananias has heard plenty about this notorious man from Tarsus.  As Saul later states: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up in Jerusalem under Gamailiel.  As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs and became very zealous for God. I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arrest-ing both men and women and throwing them in prison.”                                                                                                                                               (Acts 22:3-4)

            Gamaliel was a leading pharisee held in high esteem in Jerusalem.  It was he who intervened on Peter and John's behalf when they had been arrested for healing a cripple in Jesus' name.  So Saul has surpassed the zeal of his own teacher, kind of like Darth Vader and Obi-wan: '...Now I am the master!'

 

            “I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel” he later wrote, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin – a real Hebrew if there ever was one, and a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.”  (Philippians 3:5)  

 

            While under arrest, Paul would identify further himself as a Roman citizen.  When asked by a Roman commander, “'Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?', Paul replied, 'Yes, I certainly am.' 

            'I am too,' the commander muttered, 'and it cost me plenty!'   To which Paul answered, 'But I am a Roman citizen by birth!'”  (Acts 22:27-28) 

                                                                                   

            So Saul had some serious clout, and the reason he's heading to Damascus, a city 150 miles north of Jerusalem, a trip that would've taken 3-4 days to make by foot, is that he seeks to crush this move-ment known as “The Way”.   The followers of The Way are in Damascus after fleeing Jerusalem when intense persecution broke out following the stoning of a young disciple named, Stephen.  

                                                                                   

            Luke identifies Saul initially as the pharisee who stood by giving his stamp of approval to the illegal stoning of Stephen: “As they began to stone him..., they laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul...  While they were stoning Stephen...Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 7:58; 8:1)

                                                                                    -2-

 

            I share all this because this Saul fellow is going to be our traveling buddy for a while. It's on the road, after all, that Saul has a life-changing encounter with the risen Nazarene, Jesus.  It's not a vision he sees but Jesus himself, evident in that his traveling buddies saw the flash of light too and “heard the sound but did not see anyone.”  (Acts 9:7)  But Saul did...  He clarifies this later in his letters, when he writes, “(Jesus) appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me....”                                                                                                                                     (1 Corinthians 15:7-8)

            It is his encounter with Jesus that turns Saul's life upside down and inside out.  How ironic that it is only in being blinded by Jesus' light that Saul comes to truly see.  And when Jesus returns sight to his blinded eyes through the prayer ministry of his new brother, Ananias, Paul's perspective is radically altered.  “Filled with the Holy Spirit..., he got up and was baptized...and at once began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God!  And all those who heard him were amazed...!” 

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 9:17-18,20-21)

            I bet they were!  I bet they were!  Can you imagine what that was like for his traveling buddies?  They'd seen the blazing light but had not been blinded by it.  They'd heard a voice but could not make out what was being said.  They could see Saul talking to someone but couldn't see anyone.

 

            Along the way their traveling buddy had been constantly “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples”, and now, just three or four days later here he is passionately preaching that this same Lord, “Jesus, is the Son of God...proving (in Scripture) that Jesus is the Christ!” 

                                                                                                                                    (Acts 9:1, 20, 22)

            They must've been stunned.  Why would Jesus appear to Saul – the persecutor?  There must be some mistake?  Maybe Saul had gone mad.  I mean, why would God choose Saul, of all people?

 

            Luke later informs us that “When (Saul) went back to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples there, but they did not believe he truly had become a disciple.”  (Acts 9:25)

           

            Who can blame them?  This didn't seem like God's way.  God faithful, people like Moses, Abra-ham & David men - whose faith was legendaryBut Saul was responsible for the death of countless Christians.  Why in the world would Jesus choose such a man as his disciple,to spread his gospel? 

 

            Isn't God constant and never changing?  As Scripture declares: “But you, O Lord, remain the same and your years will never end.”  (Psalm 102:270  And again, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  (Hebrews 13:8) 

                                                                                   

            Yes, it is true.  God is constant and Jesus remains the same – steadfast and unchanging is he, but that doesn't mean God's ways of engaging us are unchanging.  Scripture reveals that our changeless God is constantly doing a new thing, inspiring us to sing a new song, revealed in unexpected ways! 

 

            One of the great names or metaphors for Jesus is that of the Lion of Judah.  Mmm – powerful! 

                                                                                   

            This Judah evokes images of strength, faithfulness, promise.  But in my devotions this week I read the only story that focuses on Judah and his character outside of the story of his brother Joseph, for whom he conspired with his brothers to murder and eventually sold into slavery. 

 

            In Genesis 38 one learns how Judah abandoned his brothers, disobeyed his father by marrying a foreigner, lied to his daughter-in-law, only to sleep with her later thinking she was a prostitute, and then tried to cheat her again, finally admitting, “She is more righteous than I...!”     (Genesis 38:26)

                                                                                    -3-

                                               

            At least in that, he was spot on!  Yet it was from his family tree that the messiah would come. And talk about unexpected – this long promised messiah, the anointed one, who was destined to rule over an eternal kingdom, was not born in a palace, but in a barn, wrapped not in silk, but placed in a feeding trough.  He would go on to hang out with sinners and traitors, tell his followers that he came not to be served but to serve, to bring good news to the poor and would die the death of a criminal. 

 

            No wonder people didn't recognize him!  He was totally outside the box!  As John bore witness: “The world did not recognize him.  He came to his own people and even they rejected him.”

                                                                                                                                    (John 1:10-11)

            Jesus came as the unexpected, unrecognized messiah.  Saul, like his messiah, wasn't recognized and was also rejected by his own people.  He was the unexpected messiah's unexpected missionary, and when he was sent from Antioch as such, he went from being called Saul to Paul – a new creation!  

 

            Saul as a pharisee thought he had God all figured out.  But this Lion of Judah is God in action, a God of surprises, moving in new, unexpected ways.  In C.S. Lewis' Narnia stories there's a repeating refrain said about this Lion of Judah, articulated to those struggling to understand His ways... 

 

            [DVD clip from the film, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; 2:07:53 – 2:08:55]

 

            Indeed, this Lion of Judah is not a tame lion.  He remains the same yet is totally outside the box we tend to try and keep him in.  And he chooses the most unlikely of candidates, the most unexpected instruments to reveal his love and grace through – instruments like a pharisee called Saul, of whom Jesus said: “Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings...” (9:15); or former fishermen like Peter and John, who turned the heads of their adversaries, who “saw their boldness, and could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures and yet recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.”  (Acts 4:13)

           

            And our changeless God is still moving in unexpected ways, through the most unlikely instru-ments, instruments like an ordinary man and his wife with no church background who God's been send-ing to Eastern Europe to share Jesus' love with the children there, or a former agnostic who had a close encounter with God and now greets at the door, or a former convict and meth adict who invites the un-churched into his home and with his wife provides meals and serves up Christ, or a massage therapist who had new age music and literature in the room the first time I went and now turns on  Christian radio and offers to pray over her clients, or a homeless couple practicing Buddhism who, having been filled with the Spirit, are now running our Alpha Course and serving as Evangelism chair on council!  

 

            God is on the move doing a new thing, working in unexpected ways thru ordinary folk!  We too are to be God's chosen instruments of God's grace, taking his message to those who've yet to recognize it, seeking to meet people's needs and share the love of Jesus as we walk boldly....in Paul's footprints! 

"Year of the Jubilee"

JANUARY 7th, 2018                                                                                      PASTOR DON PIEPER

ISAIAH 61:1-7                                                                                              LUKE 4:14-21

 

                                                “YEAR OF THE JUBILEE!

 

            So..., it's a new year!  Out with the old, in with the new! So what do you do with that?  Time for

a change...?  Personal change?  Are any of you making any new year resolutions...?  Like what...?

 

                        Hobbes:           Are you making any resolutions for the new year?

{p. 164}           Calvin:             Yeah.  I'm resolving to just wing it and see what happens.

                        Hobbes:           So you're staying the course?

                        Calvin:             I stick to my strengths.

 

            Staying the course, at least for Calvin, tends to lead to a collision course with trouble! Are we any different?  I know my inclination to “wing it” doesn't usually end very well either.  Be it resolved that I be absolved of all past wrongdoing...!  Sounds like what Jesus called, “the year of the Lord”!

 

            In Luke 4 we find Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry. Back from a soul-searching, forty days in the desert that has sharpened his sense of purpose, he sits among his peers and is handed the scroll of Isaiah.  Looking into the faces of those around him, Jesus opens it and stands up to read.  The room goes quiet. Word has it, that Jesus has been filled with the Holy Spirit's power(Luke 4:14)  He teaches with such authority! Jesus chooses a text, and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, for he's anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of  the sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord.”                                                                                                                                           (Luke 4:18-19)

            His audience shift in their seats and exchange knowing glances.  Then “(Jesus)  rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.”  (Luke 4:20)

 

            It's the moment they'd all been waiting for. You could've heard a pin drop. He had their undivid-ed attention.  When a rabbi sat, he intended to teach.   “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him, and he began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'                                                                                                                                             (Luke 4:20-21)

            The attendant holding the scroll?  His jaw did one of these... This was a messianic text, referring  to 'the anointed one', or in Hebrew, the messiah, who'd usher in the eternal kingdom promised to David. 

 

            Jesus was standing among his neighbors and family of faith, and saying, I am he! This messiah, anointed in the very Spirit of God, of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke hundreds of years ago, this one who'd proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and heal God's people – well that's who I am & what I do!

 

            Jesus wasn't just winging it.  He was clarifying who he is and what it is that he's about.  He was claiming Isaiah 61 as his mission statement and later authorizing us to do the same.  As he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  So go, and make disciples...!” 

                                                                                                                                    (Matthew 28:18-19)

            This prophetic mission statement authorizes us in five ways.  First, we're anointed “to preach the good news to the poor”.  (Isaiah 61:1/Luke 4:18) When the poor see us, they should be like: Yah!

 

            The Greek word for 'to preach the good news' is euangelizomai, from which we get the word 'evangelize'.  God cares enough to send the very best - his only Son.  We show we care by sharing him and looking for ways to meet the physical and spiritual needs of those who're going hungry!  

                                                                                    -2-

            When those around him were hungry, he gave them food to eat.  When their souls were empty, starving for hope and direction, he fed them God's Word, demonstrating its potential for their lives. 

 

            I read recently of Evan Roberts, the man at the center of the Welsh revival of 1905. Early on the Spirit gave him an overwhelming experience of God's love.  As a result he was filled with compassion for others: “I felt ablaze with a desire to go thru the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Savior: and had it been possible, I was willing to pay God for the honor of doing so.”  (Evan Roberts)

 

            So many of you have been likewise anointed!  I'm moved every time I hear of how Josh and Natalia have opened their home to people in need..., and witness to them in word and deed...! 

            So one, we are authorized to preach and be good news to the poor.  Second, we are authorized to bring healing. We've been anointed “to bind up the brokenhearted”(Isaiah 61:1) 

 

            The word for 'bind up' means to bandage, soothe, heal, to restore to wholeness.   We've been granted God-given authority to bring healing to the broken hearts, lives and relationships around us.  A number of you have pursued inner healing thru theophostic prayer ministry.  One of you received such a powerful breakthru this past year that your outlook totally changed – and your children took notice...!

 

            Our community is in desperate need of the Spirit's healing touch. As Christ-imitators, and in the power of His Healing Spirit, we can have a huge impact by living out our calling by providing the place and the means by with which the brokenhearted can have their hurts healed.  We gain confidence by praying over one another...so that we can pray in power over others.   (Chris praying over woman...!)

 

            Third, we've been given authority “to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourn-ing, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”  (Isaiah 61:2-3)

            Those who 'grieve', who are vulnerable to despair, tend to lose perspective and lose sight of God's goodness and grace.  We've been given authority to lift them into God's presence and to point to a hope that transforms the darkest Friday into the bright dawn of the resurection! 

            We've been anointed to bring comfort in a way that the world cannot. As Paul put it: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like all the rest who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13)  We've been anointed to bring a comfort that brings fresh vision...! 

           

            Fourth, we've been authorized to rebuild what has been destroyed.  The prophet suddenly shifts from the first person singular to the second person plural, from “The Spirit of the Lord is on me”  (61:1) to “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated.” (61:4)

            Clearly the prophet saw that the messianic hope that would be fulfilled in one who would come to save the people of God from their sins would be a hope that would be embodied in the people of God themselves as they too came to be anointed in the Spirit of the Lord.  In this way, and together, this living temple of the Lord as Peter referred to the church is to be about the reconstruction business! 

 

            The church is not to be a place of judgment and condemnation, as was the religious community of Jesus' day, but a place of hope and understanding, a place where bad choices can be forgiven and an opportunity to start afresh can be found – a place where people can come as they are, wounded and wounding, and be given a vision for the reconstruction of their lives. 

                                                                                   

            Fifth, we've have been authorized “to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”  (Isaiah 61:2)

                                                                                    -3-

            The 'year of the Lord's favor' is reminiscent of the Jubilee year.  Every 50 years the trumpet was to sound and liberty was to be proclaimed throughout the land and to all its inhabitants. Slaves and their children were to be set free, and criminals and political prisoners were to be liberated.   It was a kind of Emancipation Proclamation, only the freedom being offered was for every conceivable kind of bondage - bondage to poverty, injustice, shame and disgrace, for those trapped in sin or otherwise displaced!

 

            Jesus offered himself as the means for being set free.  To those who'd gotten lost, wandering in the darkness of sin and self-absorption Jesus said, “I am the way.”  To those entrapped by inner lies or other deceptions of the enemy Jesus said, “I am the truth.”  And for those who'd chosen belief systems and life styles that lead to death..., Jesus said, “I am the life.”  (John 14:6)

            My friends, as Jesus noted: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  (John 8:36)

 

            Jesus looks at these five ministries Isaiah prophesies about and says in effect, 'That's who I am!  That's what I do!  I was authorized from above to do what I've been doing.  Now I authorize you under the same authority, to do likewise: to tell others the good news, to heal the brokenhearted, to comfort those who grieve, to rebuild what's been destroyed and to proclaim deliverance to those held captive!'

 

            This is the year of the Lord's favor – of Jubilee! To be sure, we will catch resistance. The enemy is taking prisoners and holding no quarter, but we've been authorized, and anointed..., with power!

 

            We've been called to shed the light of God's grace into the gray of a dark day, a day in which people are increasingly distracted, discouraged and deceived into captivity.  We're here to declare that this is the Year of the Lord's favor and to sing a new song, the Lord's love song, in this time & place!

 

            The story is told of a prisoner, falsely convicted, who refuses to abandon hope and seeks to extend the light of that hope into the dark, dismal recesses of his prison home...

            [DVD clip from Shawshank Redemption; 1:07:30 – 1:09:47]

 

            There's a song delighting the ears, singing about something so beautiful..., that it makes one's heart ache!  It soars higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream, and when one fully takes it in, embraces it, and responds to it, it causes the walls that entrap to crumble and fall away, and in that moment...every last man and woman and child among us feels and truly is...free indeed! 

 

            John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Church, once described ministry as “meeting the needs of others with the resources of God.”  (John Wimber)

            That is what we're about.  We're about meeting the needs of those around us with the resources of God and no resource is more powerful than the Spirit of God in which we were anointed, just as Christ was before us.  The results of such a ministry are described by Isaiah in vivid imagery: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”

                                                                                                                                                (Isaiah 61:3)

            People who were previously impoverished, imprisoned and embittered are now enriched, free, and joyful: a new life has been planted.  And now they, in turn, are able to be a source of strength to others.  The transformation in their lives is a visible testimony to the working of God's Spirit through a trusting relationship in God's Son, Jesus Christ. 

 

            That's who we are. That's what we do. For “The Spirit of the Lord is on (US!), because He has anointed (us) to preach good news to the poor..., to proclaim freedom for the prisoners..., to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord – the Year of Jubilee!”  (Luke 4:18-19)