“LIVING A NEW LIFE”

SEPTEMBER 23rd, 2018                                                                        PASTOR DON PIEPER

“Mail From Jail”                                                                                     Colossian 3:1-11;12-7;4:2-6

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                                                “LIVING A NEW LIFE

 

            Our series, “Walking in Paul's Footprints”, ended as Paul arrived in Rome, where he was placed under house-arrest, to await his trial with Caesar.  While he waited, he wrote numerous letters to the churches in Asia and Europe.  Why so? Well, why does anyone write a letter?  Consider Calvin, for eg.

 

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!

                                                                                                (It's A Magical World, p. 135)

            Okay, that’s probably not one of the reasons Paul wrote all those letters.  One of the first letters he wrote, apparently, was his letter to the church in Collosae in Asia Minor.  In his opening chapter, as we saw last week, Paul provides four reasons for his writing them: 1) To connect; 2) to correct; 3) to encourage them to live changed lives and 4) to elevate them by lifting them up in prayer. 

 

            Now, in chapter three, he returns to the subject of living changed lives to clarify what he means: “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life and your new life is in Christ.”     (Colossians 3:1-3)

                                                                                                           

            Paul begins by reminding them that these new lives, lives that are free of guilt, fear and shame, are the result of something that has been done for us – not by us: Since you have been raised to new life...!  It's a done deal – its past tense.  And you are the passive noun in that sentence.  Jesus the active. 

 

            So how does that work?  Personal change doesn't come easy.  Even if we get off to a good start, many of us have a tendency to backslide into old ways.  If we're not careful, if we don't make a clean break with old behaviors and relationships, temptations will quickly surface to lull us back in.  Not only that, but if we're honest, we'd have to admit how easily distracted we can be. 

            It's kind of like a certain canine that appeared in film a few years back...

            [DVD clip from the film, “Up”;                                                          ]

 

            It's so hard to stay focused when there are squirrels around.  So what's your squirrel look like?  How can you live the new life Christ offers without getting distracted and losing your way?

            In the context and the teaching text of Colossians 3, Paul provides several helpful insights.  For one thing, we learn from the context that the Christians in Colossae, had struggles with squirrels too.  “Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you...”   (Colossians 3:5) 

                                                                         

            How does Paul know this?  After all, as we learned last week, he's never been to Collosae.  He's never met the people in this church.  How does he know that sinful earthly things are lurking within them? Well, because they lurk within all of us – believers and nonbelievers alike.  “Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed or idolatry...”  (Col 3:5) 

 

            And then he makes a telling statement: “You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world.  But now is the time to get rid (of such thoughts and actions).”  (Col 3:7)

                                                                        -2-

 

            Apparently, Paul had been informed about the kinds of lives they used to live.  That is to say, that among the Christians in Collosae there are many who were already living changed lives, or at least had been, but some are now getting distracted by false teaching, for one thing, and are backsliding.  We are all prone to distraction...  Even in Paul's own entourage there is such a one. 

 

            In the conclusion to his letter, Paul mentions a number of partners in the gospel that are with him as he writes.  It's like a roster of all-stars from the early church.  He mentions Luke the doctor who traveled with Paul and authored a gospel and the Book of Acts.  There's Barnabas, Paul's partner on his first mission trip; Mark, Barnabas' cousin & traveling buddy; Tychicus, a changed man and dear friend; Epaphras, the Colossian whose life was changed by Paul's witness during his third missionary trip; Aristarchus, a suave traveling buddy who visited us a couple of weeks ago; Onesimus, a slave who will reappear in Paul's letter to Philemon and then there's a fellow by the name of Demas. 

 

            The mention of Demas is significant in light of Paul's teaching here in Colossians.  By the time Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, Demas had seriously backslid.  As Paul later writes: “Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica.”                                                                                                                                               (2 Timothy 4:10)

            Apparently there were some squirrels in Thessalonica that caught Demas' eye.  The point being, that Paul could speak with authority on this subject as he knew firsthand of those who struggled to continue to live the new life Christ had called them into. 

 

            So it is that Paul writes to encourage those in Colossae to continue to live out this new life.  How so?  “Set your sights on the realities of heaven – think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”  (Col 3:1-2)   In short, don't lose focus.  Feed your faith by focusing your mind on the things of God.  Be aware that the enemy is constantly trying to distract and dissuade you. 

 

            As Christians, we are disciples in training, but the problem is that there is so much in our day to day lives to distract and discourage us.  Consider Calvin's experience in the classroom...

Calvin:            I wonder how long it's been since I last looked at the clock.  Maybe it's been an hour. 

            Well, actually it's probably been only 40 minutes.  I guess half an hour to be safe... 

            20 Seconds?!?     It's going to be a very bad day. 

Teacher:          Calvin, sit up.                                                              (It's A Magical World, p. 134)

Calvin:            …..BORRRING!           Yeah, yeah....   Kill the messenger.

                                                                                                            (….Jungle Cat, p.88)

            We're so easily distracted.  No wonder Paul urges us to tune in to God's new, life-giving frequency.  It's like slipping into a new set of clothes, Paul suggests.  “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him...  Clothe yourselves with grace, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience..., and above all, clothe yourselves with love...” 

                                                                                                            (Colossians 3:10, 12, 14)

            This is the attitude and actions of Jesus himself.  Paul is saying that this new life we are called to live is like getting dressed up in Christ on a daily basis.   But in order for us to look like Christ we need to hang out with Christ, learn from him thru his word, let him give us new desires, attitudes and aspirations, by letting him rule us from the inside out, guiding our human spirit with his Holy Spirit.   

 

            Another insight Paul provides for those who embrace Christ is the importance of learning from others who are also in Christ.  Paul writes: “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives.  Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom He gives.”       (Colossians 3:16) 

                                                                        -3-

 

            This past summer Melanie, did an internship in Germany working for a company that makes bi-cycles for people with special needs. At one point she told us how happy she was to have greasy hands.  I was like, “okay, that's.....wonderful! You go girl!”   And it was!  She learned from others, contributed to a cause greater than her self and connected with the boss.  For similar reasons, Christ gave us the church.  With all of its many imperfections it provides an op for us to learn from others, contribute to Christ's cause and connect with the boss – inviting others to join in on life's greatest adventure! 

 

            Paul follows that insight with yet another: that of developing an attitude of gratitude!  “Live in peace and always be thankful...  Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.  And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks thru him to God the Father...  Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”

                                                                                                            (Colossians 3:15-17; 4:2)

            Over and over again, Paul repeats it.  Always be thankful.  Scary and painful circumstances will come your way but such things as loss and grief do not change the character of God.  Even hard-ship and failure can be used by God to further his kingdom and draw us closer to Him. 

 

            In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells of her experience being imprisoned at Ravensbruck concentration camp with her sister, Betsie, during WW II.  There they lived in deplorable conditions – lice, dysentery and brutality from the guards were the norm, yet Betsie ended each day giving thanks for it all.  Corrie protested that she couldn't give thanks for everything – not for the sadistic guards or the torment of lice infested beds, but Betsie persisted.  Only later did they find out that the reason the guards did not interrupt their weekend worship services, or punish them for having them as they were strictly forbidden, was because the guards were afraid of the lice. 

 

            An attitude of gratitude not only reflects that of Jesus but opens our hearts and minds to the peace of Christ which surpasses all human understanding.  An attitude of gratitude guards our hearts from the devices of the enemy to discourage and deceive us.  Paul's remedy?  Always be thankful. 

 

            Finally, Paul offers fresh perspective: “God chose you to be the holy people he loves...”  (Colossians 3:12)  God chose you!  He wants you on his team.  I recall what that was like as a kid.  I was not the best athlete so I was often chosen last...  But once, David, a kid from church, chose me second.  When the other kid complained David defended me.   'No – he's good!  Don's super quick!' 

                                                                         

            What a feeling to be chosen because the captain sees something in you.  So it is with God and you.  He sees something in you even you probably don't see.  God chose you – and he chose you to be one of his holy people.  Holy does not mean perfect, it means set apart, distinct.  What's more he has chosen you – not because you're super quick..., but simply because he loves you because he loves you! 

 

            You're holy, set apart, to look and behave differently than the world around you.  The difference being is that you have Christ's Spirit coaching and helping you along!  So it is that he offers to help you discard the soiled garments of your past – the part of you that was consumed with self-indulgence and to live in a radically distinct way – holy, as if God is indwelling you...!

            The concept is dramatized in the opening scene in musical, Godspell

            [DVD clip from the film, Godspell;                                                    ]

 

            That's who we're called to be – shedding our old lives in order to get dressed in a whole new way – clothed in the tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience of Jesus himself. 

                                                                        -4-

 

            My friends, “God chose you to be the holy people he loves...so that whatever you do or say, you do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.  So then, make the most of every opportunity...so that you will have the right response for everyone.” 

                                                                                                            (Colossians 3:12,17; 4:5-6)

 

 

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  “WHATTA YA GONNA DO?”

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SEPTEMBER 16th, 2018                                                                              PASTOR DON PIEPER

“Mail From Jail”                                                                                           Colossians 1:1-14; 15-23

 

                                    “WHATTA YA GONNA DO?

 

            (look up and around as if just noticing everyone...)

            So whatta ya gonna do?   It's awkward at best!   I mean think about it – there you are, chained to this crazy dude from Tar-pit, wherever that is!  They put him on house arrest as soon as he arrived in Rome and assigned you to be his guard!  So just like that, you and this Jew are like you're own little chain gang!  I mean, what's with that?   You didn't sign up for this, am I right? 

 

            You're thinking, what did I ever do to deserve this?   I mean this guy shows up off the boat –  half-starved, ship-wrecked, unshaven, unkempt, unshowered and ugly as sin and you're supposed to stay linked up with him?  Yikes!  What did I ever do, you wonder, to warrant this? 

 

            So, whatta ya gonna do?  And mean there you are, chained to the prisoner in question, this traveling wilbury, this nut from Tar-put...         (Voice from congregation): It's Paul – from Tarsus! 

 

            Uh-huh!   Anyway, day after day, this Paul fellow, a reformed pharisee, or so I'm told, starts dictating letters.  That makes sense.  I mean what else is there to do, when you're under house arrest, other than entertain guests?  And he does entertain guests.  Lots of guests.  It's like grand-central station over there!   You know what I'm saying?   It's crazy. 

 

            You recall that one guest, Epaphras, I think was his name, came to visit this guy from Tar-pit...

            It's Tarsus!

            Whatever – and this guy, Epaphras, hugs the prisoner like they're long lost pals, and then tells  him about some church he's helped plant in his home town of Collosae.  It's a city over in Asia Minor near where the prisoner passed through on his third missionary trip, apparently. 

 

            Anyway, Epaphras informs the prisoner that things had been going well until just recently. Now everything is getting confused, he says.   The prisoner was captivated, so to speak.  He urged his friend, his scribe, Timothy, to grab quill and ink to dictate a letter. 

 

            Now normally you'd be all in favor of prisoners writing letters.  It helps distract them from the certain doom that awaits.  With most prisoners, that would give you a chance to relax but not with this prisoner.  When he dictated letters he paced like a race-horse.  Back and forth he'd pace, and being chained by the wrist, you're going with him, stride for stride, you see what I'm saying?  And I'm telling you, that when he paced, that guy from Tar-pit really raced...! 

            It's Tarsus!

 

            Yeah – right!   So whatta ya gonna do!  You're going to pace back and forth too!  Criminay!  So you let out some slack in the chain and as he starts to dictate this letter he tells Timothy to address them as his faithful brethren – which basically means he's calling them his brothers and sisters.  And you think, okay, he's dictating to his family but then as he gets going you realize that he's writing to a place he's never been, to a group of people he's never met!   

 

            “We are writing to God's holy people in the city of Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ...., for we have heard of your faith..., (how) you learned about the Good News from Epaphras, our beloved co-worker...   He has told us about your love for others...”  (Col 1:2,4,7-8)

                                                                        -2-

 

            He's dictating a personal letter to city of strangers – like they're his own brothers and sisters!  So back and forth you go – oh, that annoying pacing – and you realize that this is no ordinary letter!  His response is both eloquent and profound.  Only in retrospect do you realize what you were privy to...! 

                                                                         

            At the time, you can't help but wonder why he writes such a letter to complete strangers.  But now...?  You can see it, can't you?  As you consider it, you can see that here in the opening to this letter to his foreign family, Paul unpacks four reasons for his writing this inspired letter...

            First, to connect; second, to correct; third to encourage; and fourth to elevate.  Check it out...!

 

            Paul, the prisoner from Tar-pit....       (same voice: It’s Tarsus!)   You seem awfully sure of that! 

Yes, him, Paul writes this letter to connect.   Epaphras pleads with Paul to reach out and connect with his friends back home in Collosae.  They need your help, he says.  They're sinking into confusion. 

 

            It reminds me of the German coastguard who is handed a pair of headphones his first day on the job, knowing that he is the voice of connection with those in trouble at sea....

            [run YouTube video, the Berlitz commercial, “What Are You Sinking About?”]

 

            So what are you sinking about?  Fortunately, as one of God's rescue workers, Paul is a bit more skilled..., and he knows the value of good communication.  So he writes to connect.  He refers to their mutual friend, Epaphras and of their common faith in Jesus Christ.  His opening words establish his credentials, if you will.  He informs them of his apostolic authority: “This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from Timothy...”            (Colossians 1:1)

                                                                                                                       

            They know and trust Epaphras, a follower of Christ who came to faith thru Paul's ministry, and by that connection Paul establishes his authority and the means by which they can trust him, like a skilled coast guard, to navigate and shepherd them to safe harbor. 

 

            So what danger are they in?  It would seem that Epaphras has brought word that there is some confusion in Collosae and that they could use some advice.  Reminds me of my young friend, Calvin...

 

Calvin:            I think our newspaper needs a new advice columnist, so I'm applying for the job. 

            See, I've written some sample answers to people who write in.

Hobbes:           “Stop whining and get a life, Bozo.”     “Don't tell ME your stupid problems.  I've got

            plenty of my own.”    “Go soak your head, you big baby.”   Want some advice?  Drop dead.”

            I guess that covers about everything. 

Calvin:            Can you imagine doing this for Money?  What a racket! 

                                                                                                            (from The Days..., p. 53)

            What a racket, is right!  Thankfully, the advice Paul offers is a bit more sound.  That brings us to the second reason Paul writes – to correct.  He writes, in part, to clarify their confusion.  Apparently, they are some in Collosae who are teaching an alternative and false gospel.  Evidence, from within the letter, reveal that he writes to confront an early form of syncretism and gnosticism.  

           

            Syncretism combined ideas from various philosophies and religions to make a watered down version of the Christian faith.  There's a rise of such thinking today as well.  Whatever works for you, is the litany of this way of thinking.  In Paul's day this led to the development of gnosticism.  Gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge wherein it was believed that the goal of life was to accumulate 'secret knowledge' of the cosmos, a belief in which no savior was needed because we can all become gods... 

                                                                        -3-

 

            So it is that Paul prays, “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding..., growing as you learn to know God better and better.”

                                                                                                            (Colossians 1:9-10)   

            In contrast to the gnostics, who say we compete for secret knowledge, Paul writes that complete knowledge is available to all, that God wants to be completely known as revealed in His Son, and thru that relationship comes true wisdom, by learning to know God, personally, experientially! 

 

            Colossians includes one of the only early Christian hymns, articulating the understanding of Christ as found in the opening to John's gospel: “In the beginning was the Word...” (John 1:1f)  For “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God...!”   In him, we come to know what is true & of God!

                                                                                                                        (Colossians 1:15)

            Knowing him, which is clearly a process, a relationship, as we learn to know God more and more, better and better, day by day, ultimately changes us in the most wonderful of ways.  This is the third reason Paul writes the Colossian Christians – to encourage them and to celebrate how they them-selves, are evidence of God's plan, his will, to reclaim the world, one changed life at a time. 

 

            As noted last week, Jesus was and is a come as you are kind of Savior!  He loves you exactly as you are – but loves you way too much to leave you that way, working from within, by the person and power of the Holy Spirit, to change us – to give us new longings for the things that bring life, to give us vision for living lives of deep meaning, lives reflecting the love and grace of God into others. 

 

            As Paul put it: “This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world.  It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God's wonderful grace...  (For) God made peace with...you who were once far away from God...  As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault (due to Christ's death on the cross)”.

            Whatta ya gonna do?!                                                                        (Colossians 1:6, 20-22) 

            That's a major change, at least for me, who was once far from God, and am prone to roam, to be made so holy and blameless, as to be able to come into God's presence.   Paul says this is what we have in common in Christ – that God sees us through his Jesus' filter and sees us as without a single fault.  That's a major change!   So you're faultless – not because you're so good – but because he is! 

 

            Realizing that God now sees you that way, wants to relate to you in that way, that you are guiltless because of his grace, his unconditional love and forgiveness, changes us!  If we get that we become major dispensers of God's love and grace to those around us.  That's a big change...! 

 

            That's one reason I love Alpha so much.  As people open up and share with one another and begin to pursue Christ with less and less baggage, they begin to change!  No wonder one of the classic Alpha books in print is a series of books called, Changed Lives!   We could write a book here based on our own testimony to the same.  Last week, Amy got up and shared of her and George's story. 

            Care to hear another?  How many of you know Pete and Rebekah's story...? 

 

            I love Colossians 1 because Paul writes it, in part, to celebrate changed lives.  In doing so, he seeks to encourage his siblings in faith.  And fourth, he writes to elevate their faith.  That is, he offers to pray over them and in putting that prayer to paper he has provided the church a model for a great prayer for us to pray over others, over one another, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  I'd like to close by doing so now.  I've asked a couple of others to join me as I do so.  So sit back....and receive....

                                                                        -4-

 

 

            “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will...,

            ...and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.  

            And that the way you live will always honor and please the Lord...

 

            And as you live to please Him may your life produce every kind of good fruit...

            and in so doing, may you grow up with him, learning to know God better and better!

 

            We also pray that you will be strengthened with all God's glorious power

            so you will have the endurance and the patience you need! 

 

            May you, in turn, be filled with great joy, always thanking God the Father...,

            mindful that He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to His people,

            those who live in the light of his truth and grace. 

 

            May you always recall how he rescued you from the kingdom of darkness and transferred you into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased your freedom and forgave your sins!” 

                                    (In Jesus' name.  Amen!)

                                                                                                            (Colossians 1:9-14)

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“WELCOMED HOME!”

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SEPTEMBER 9th, 2018                                                                                PASTOR DON PIEPER

“Mail From Jail”                                                                               Rom. 15:1-7/Luke 15:1-3,11b-32

 

                                                “WELCOMED HOME!

 

            Our travels with the apostle Paul ended last week upon his arrival in Rome, where he was put under house arrest.  From there Paul wrote a number of inspired, timeless letters which we'll begin in-vestigating together next week.  Thru these letters he sought to build up the church, such as he'd done in writing the church here in Rome.  In that letter Paul sought, among other things, to impress upon the young church who they were as followers of Christ - children of God, and heirs to Jesus' kingdom....

 

            As Paul put it to his future neighbors in Rome: “You received God's Spirit when He adopted you as His own children.  Now we call him, 'Abba, Father', for His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children; and since we are His children, we are His heirs.”  (Romans 8:16)

 

            Where did Paul get this idea that we can call the Almighty....'Dad', and that we are his children and heirs to His kingdom? From Jesus of course...

 

            In his preface, Luke 15 observes that: “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This so upset the Pharisees and teachers of religious law that they complain-ed that Jesus was associating with such sinful people – even eating with them!”  (Luke 15:1-2)

 

            These two verses reflect what Jesus was all about. Three things stand out: First, as his critics noted, Jesus was associating with notorious sinners.  He reached out to them, talked to them, ate with them, ministered to them, traveled with them – in short, he hung out with them.   He saw past the exterior of bravado, self-indulgence, broken relationships, lustful, angry, wounded attitudes and life styles and saw their desperate need…to know and experience God's unconditional love. 

 

Jesus met people where they’re at, loving them, radically as is. The need was so great that it moved Jesus to tears: “As Jesus saw the city he began to weep, saying, ‘How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace…, but it is hidden from your eyes.’ (Luke 19:41-2)

That’s the first thing that leaps off the pages - his approach: love the lost into the kingdom!

 

             The second thing, admittedly, makes me squirm. It was the religious community, those who knew Scripture inside and out, who prayed regularly and eloquently, who gave offerings of time and money back to God, who resisted and criticized Jesus’ sense of mission more than anyone else. 

 

            One time he accepted an invitation to eat with a notorious sinner named Matthew prompting further complaints, to which Jesus responded: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.  I've come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”                                                                                                                            (Matthew 9:12-13)

            The church then, should resemble the E.R.  So is its reputation more that of a members only club?  I read ofan episode of The Simpsons where Homer is asked why his neighbors sent their child to a Christian camp. Homer pauses then says: 'They sent him there to learn how to be judgmental.'  Ouch! 

 

            One of the things I love about Alpha is that it provides a safe environment for people to experi-ence a sense of belonging even before they come to believe. One such guest confided in me that church people weren't his kind of people. Later in our Alpha group he shared how his perspective had changed.  “It’s the first time…that folks in church seemed to accept me as I am, that I was listened to…”

                                                                        -2-

 

            In the words of John Burke: “What our world needs more than anything else is grace. Not more talk about grace – but grace that seeks out lost people like God does.  Grace with skin on it – because people are born to run from God without it.”       (John Burke’s No Perfect People Allowed)

 

            That’s what the story of the Prodigal Son is all about.  Here’s a young man who's been selfish, spiteful, indulgent and immoral.  His demand for his inheritance while his father is still alive is cold and arrogant, since as the younger son he's not entitled to any thing.  It's a slap in the face of this father and his brother.   But Jesus says that at one point he came to his senses.  Like an alcoholic he hit rock bottom and came to realize his desperate need for what he’d had at home all along - loving acceptance and a sense of belonging.  But before he gets there, Jesus notes, “While he was still a long way off his father saw him coming and ran to his son…, embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

           

            It’s one of my favorite verses. It conveys the heart of our heavenly Father.  I read of a pastor who shared this story with a friend he'd made from Israel, asking him what stood out for him about the story as one who grew up in a similar culture.  The man referred to that verse and said it was laughable – that no self-respecting adult male would run after someone in public.  To do so meant to lift up one's robe, like a woman wearing a dress, and run with his ankles and knees showing.  Such an act would be viewed as reckless and shameful, which is huge in a culture that values honor above all else. 

 

            Jesus told this story in such a culture to reveal the father's heart which is echoed repeatedly by Jesus as he identifies his sense of purpose and mission... *  I came that you might have life...  (I) came not to condemn the world but that it might be saved...; The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor..., that captives may be released, the blind to see and the oppressed set free...                        Jesus wants us to know that we are loved unconditionally – that the Father's love for us is as radical and shameless as that of the prodigal's father.

 

            So every time I’ve come to my senses I realize how far off I still am, not in some general way, but as God reveals to me in specific ways.  As this occurs I reawaken to the pig sty I choose over the loving arms and ways of my Heavenly Father.  And where else can I most readily experience that loving embrace if not in the arms of Christ, through the Body of Christ? 

 

            Jesus told that story to help those in the faith community catch his vision of what it means to be the hands and feet of God – hands that embrace the sinner as is and feet that go racing after him “while he’s still a long way off”!  That’s why the story ends with the Father talking to the Prodigal’s brother, the son who refused to welcome his brother home.  It ends with a cliffhanger as the Father invites the elder son, the more mature son, to join in on the welcoming home party, and we the audience are left to determine for ourselves whether or not he will participate in that party of grace… (Luke 15:20)

                                                                       

            That’s the third thing that grabbed my attention in Luke 15.  Jesus was redefining what it meant to trust in God and to be obedient to His will.  It was no longer about being religious…, about keeping the rules..., but about learning to trust in Jesus – and living for him!

 

            Luke notes, “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to Jesus.” (Luke 15:1)  But why him – why go to the son of a carpenter?  Why?  Because they knew that Jesus was a come as you are kind of guy – one who loved others as is, inviting them to discover a God who welcomes and loves us even while we’re still sinners, as the apostle Paul would later note. 

 

                                                                        -3-

 

            Most people assume they will not be accepted until they change, not by God and definitely not by church people.  That gives us a great opening, an awesome opportunity for us to be used by God to love people into his kingdom with gestures of reckless grace following the example of Jesus...

 

            But to create a culture of grace we must each rediscover for ourselves our own desperate need for grace. We must experience it in order to share it.  In turn, we must give up trying to fix people.  That’s not our job; that’s God’s job.  This doesn’t mean we never point out sinful, immoral behavior. Clearly there may come a moment when a brother or sister in Christ is wandering off the path and so in the spirit of Christ's love we gently seek to redirect them but for that to happen there needs to be trust...

and humility. “We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”   (Romans 3:23) 

 

            We cannot change anyone.  Such inner transformation requires the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice that in Jesus’ story the prodigal son comes to his senses while still wallowing in the pig stye. His brother would've been happy to tell him...but it is his Father's love that brings him home!

 

            And look at the reception he receives: the best robe, a shiny ring..., new sandals, a fatted calf!  The father wanted to make absolutely sure his son knew that, in spite of it all, in spite of how he'd been treated and the stench of swine, a job, by the way, repulsive to a first-century Jew to whom pigs were viewed as being spiritually unclean, in spite of all that, the Father communicated in word and deed that his lost son now found, belonged!  Every word and gesture shouts: You matter to me; welcome home!

 

            Think of it this way: If you saw a Rembrandt covered in mud, you wouldn’t treat it like mud.  Your primary concern wouldn’t be the mud at all, tho' it would need to be removed.  You’d be ecstatic to have something so valuable in your care.  But if you tried to clean it up by yourself, you might dam-age it.  So you'd carefully bring this work of art to a master who could help you restore it to its original condition.  When people begin treating one another as God’s masterpiece waiting to be revealed, God’s grace grows in their lives and cleanses them – God's plan for both brothers!

 

            Dave Roever is a Viet Nam vet who spoke of his fears upon his return home. ‘I’d heard of how others were being treated. Looking back I’ve come to realize that the greatest fear I’ve ever known …is fear of rejection.  I watched as the wife of the man in the bed next to me walked in, took a look at him, and tossed her wedding ring at his feet... Then my young bride walked in and saw me lying there in a body cast.  She leaned over and softly said, “I love you Dave.”  And then she kissed me on my broken, chapped lips and said, “Welcome home!”’   (Dave Roever)

 

            That’s Jesus' vision, to race out to embrace the lost son, to welcome home the wounded and broken hearted, to focus not so much on the mud but on the masterpiece and to convey in no uncertain terms, You belong! Welcome home!  That’s our vision, to be a Come as you are refuge from the storms of life, no matter how self-induced they may be, to be the body of Christ in this place and time, loving and “Accepting each other just as Christ has accepted us…to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)  

 

“IT MATTERS!”

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Sorry, No Audio This Week

September 2nd, 2018                                                                               PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      ACTS 28:1-16; 17-31

 

                                                            “IT  MATTERS!

 

            For the past several months we've been walking in Paul's proverbial footprints – uh, Paul's foot-prints, learning from him as did his traveling buddies, like Barnabus & Silas, Priscilla & Aquilla, Timothy, Titus and Luke,  and Aristarchus, who was here last week. 

 

            Now his footprints lead us to Rome, by way of Syracuse, then Rhegium, on to Puteoli, a stop at Three Taverns, and on to Rome. Rome would be Paul's final destination, as directed by the Holy Spirit, who told Paul years earlier that nothing would prevent him from spreading the gospel there, right under Nero's nose - not the stones hurled at him by his adversaries, nor the chains of Roman captivity, nor a tempest at sea, nor the shipwreck that would follow, not even the bite of a poisonous snake! 

 

            “And so we came to Rome!” Luke repeatedly declares. (Acts 28:14,16)   Ah, Rome! The flavor of fine Italian cuisine, the aroma of freshly pressed flowers, the grandeur of the coliseum, the vista atop Palatine Hill!  Unfortunately, Paul has arrived in chains and won't be doing any sight-seeing any time soon, as he is under house arrest and dependent upon others to come to him. 

 

            So Paul comes up with Plan B.  Instead of visiting the local synagogue..., he invites the Jewish leaders over for some expresso, where he articulates the purpose for which he’s risked it all: “I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel – the Messiah – has already come.”                                                                                                                                                                   (Acts 28:20)

            Suddenly there’s a bit of confusion.  “Who is this guy?  What guy?   Paul of Tarsus.  Paul of who?  Have you heard any reports about this guy?  Not a one - never heard of him.  He’s one of them Jesus people.  Oh, that explains it.  Explains what?  The ball & chains – you know how they are!

 

He says that the hope of Israel has already come! Really? It’s about time our soccer team won the world cup!  No, no, no!  Not that hope of Israel.  He’s saying that the Messiah has shown up – as a Nazarene!  The messiah is a Nazarene?  Huh.  I must’ve missed that memo!  

 

            The Jewish leaders are a bit taken back by Paul’s words.  If God is on the move, if the Messiah has come...: Why weren’t we notified?   Where’s the proof?   It reminds me of an old classic...

            In the film, Oh, God!, a grocery store manager claims to be having conversations with God, in person, but the authorities demand proof and so in his defense God takes the stand…

            [Oh, God film clip: (scene 21) 1:23:45 – 1:25:11]

 

            The premise for the film, Oh God, raises a good question.  If God showed up and talked to you, how would you help others recognize him?   That was the challenge facing Paul.  He knew many would not accept what he had to say and he was right.  Luke records that “some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe.”  (Acts 28:24)

                                                                                                                                                 

            His circumstances had at least one thing in common with our own.  Folks were suspicious of Christians.  Some saw them as trouble-makers.  In a climate of religious pluralism, in which many religions were represented in Roman cities, the Christian faith sounded extreme and exclusive.   If you have ever tried to share your faith or invite someone you probably have experienced similar resistance.  Many of our neighbors have very similar suspicions of Christians and the church.

                                                                                    -2-

 

            In a 1996 Barna survey of those outside the church 85% viewed Christianity favorably. In 2009, just 13 years later, only 16% did and only 3% of those surveyed wrote favorably of evangelicals.  In a recent issue of Christianity Today, a journalist interviewed people on the street and then wrote an article entitled, “Four Common Complaints About Christians”.  Do you know what they were?   

            1) You don't listen to me.  2) You judge me.  3) You don't practice what you preach.  4) You talk about what's wrong instead of helping make it right.  As comedian, Cathy Ladman, put it: “All religions are basicly the same: religion is basically guilt with different holidays.”  (Cathy Ladman) 

           

            How did Paul manage to convince anyone of the gospel in such an environment?  In this final chapter of Acts we catch a glimpse of Paul's approach – an approach from which we can learn a lot. 

 

            Four things grabbed my attention.  First, was Paul's invitation to those in Rome to come to his house, where he sat chained to a Roman guard.  Talk about being vulnerable!  Those he invited into his new home we're not exactly seeing him at his best.  He was tranparent with them.  We'd do well to do the same.  Too often we try to impress those around us by presenting ourselves as having overcome all adversity due to our faith, or to have all the answers as if we've somehow arrived... 

 

            In the words of Phillip Yancey: “We Christians do not have all the answers.  We squabble and argue with the best of 'em.  I have found that it makes all the difference in the world whether I view my neighbor as some one that needs to be fixed or corrected or as someone whom God already loves.”

                                                                                                (from Phillip Yancey's Vanishing Grace)

            It's significant that Paul invited those in Rome to his home “so we could get acquanted”. (Acts 28:20).  In order to get acquanted with those around us we must be engaged listeners.  Learning to ask good questions and good followup questions is key in getting to know someone.  Paul sought to make friends of his new neighbors in Rome.  We'd do well to do likewise – not in order to convert them but because we could all use more trustworthy, transparent friends.  In doing so we embody grace...

 

            Secondly, Paul welcomed them. Luke writes,“For the next two years, Paul...welcomed all who visited him...”  (Luke 28:30)  This witnesses to the ministry of hospitality.   We partner in two ongoing ways in this ministry here – one, on Sunday mornings, and two, on Monday evenings at Alpha.  Those like Shawn make it easy for us here on Sunday.  The spread of goodies in the back makes it a fun, tasty place to practice hospitality – sharing a shrimp.., getting acquanted, introducing them to our friends...

                                                                                   

            Hospitality also involves reaching out to guests when they first show up, being careful not to overwhelm them – (let go of my hand!), but helping them to feel at home, maybe sitting with them... 

            Likewise, hospitality at Alpha involves humility & sensitivity.  It takes a great deal of courage for someone to show up for an evening of Alpha.  Whatever we can do to help put them at ease....     

           

            A third approach Paul took in Rome was that of addressing their source of hope.  In speaking about the Messiah – the hope of Israel – in the way he did, Paul spoke to a deep longing they shared.  As a Jew, Paul knew how deep this longing went.  In our situation, we are less inclined to know what a person's deep-rooted hopes are without getting to know them first.  

 

            That's why it is so vital to truly listen to one another, particularly those who don't share our faith or world view.  Sharing our hopes and dreams requires trust.  Sometimes they are expressed in terms of where we have been disappointed or hurt.  Other times, in terms of deep held longings.  It's one of the reasons I love being involved in Alpha because so many of our guests share those things... 

                                                                                    -3-

 

            Paul's fourth approach was how he articulated the gospel.  Paul “explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures.”  (Acts 28:23)

 

            Paul talked about what Jesus talked about – how trusting in him brings God's kingdom to life.

Jesus told parables to help us grasp it.  He healed people to demonstrate it.  He taught us to pray so that we would long for it, and experience it: “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”                                                                                                                                                    (Matthew 6:10)  

Paul's ministry to Publius and his father was a manifestation of this reality.  When the Holy Spirit healed Publius' father it opened an opportunity to minister to scores of other residents of Malta: “As it happened, Publius' father was ill, so Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him.  Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed.” 

                                                                                                                        (Acts 28:8-9) 

            Paul saw this life as a cosmic battleground, where Jesus came to free and heal those under attack.  The stakes couldn’t be higher.  Even though he was rejected by the majority of those who heard his message, Paul refused to give up.  He knew his days were limited and so he gave it everything he had.  Every opportunity to help advance Jesus’ kingdom matters!  “For the next two years, Paul lived in his own rented house.  He welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God with all boldness and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.  And no one tried to stop him.”                                                                                                                                                  (Acts 28:30-31)

            And then…?  I don’t know; it feels like there should be more.  He’s there for two years after all! Perhaps Luke’s abrupt ending was his way of urging the young church to continue the book – that there were still chapters yet to be added – chapters in which the story of Jesus’ kingdom continues to push back the realm of darkness…through the healing and awakening of God’s people. 

            It’s reminiscent of how Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings comes to a close… 

                        [* Lord of the Rings film clip: (scene 59) 3:10:50-3:11:25]

 

            I like that.  We all have parts to play in the kingdom Jesus came to bring to life.  There is so much yet of the story to be written/told.  As William Shakespeare put it, “All the world’s a stage.”   The question is, how big a part are you willing to play? 

            Admittedly, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  There is so much hurt and dysfunction in the world, not to mention how hostile the world/Jefferson County has become to the Christian faith.  What difference can one person make?   What’s the point? 

 

            It’s like the man walking on a beach where millions of star fish have been stranded, dying in the hot sun.  As he walks along he notices a boy picking up a star fish and throwing it into the water.  The man scoffs at him, “What are you doing, boy?  There are millions of star fish out here?  What differ-ence do you think that will make?” The boy reached down and picking up another one he flung it out into the sea and shouted back, “I bet it made a difference to that one!”

 

            My friends, it matters.  It matters that Jesus came to give you life and to give your life meaning that surpasses the 9-5, you deserve a break today, kind of life the world is selling.  The gospel Paul shared showed in word and deed that you matter..., and you were called to make a difference!  

             It matters!  (Just ask....)

 

            “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches our thirst.” (Henri Nouwen)             The story is still unfolding – yours and theirs – what part will you play…?!

"Stormy Seas"

AUGUST 26th, 2018                                                                                      PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                          ACTS 27:1-2a, 4-15,18-26; 27-44

 

                                                “STORMY SEAS

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            It's quite the story isn't it?  It's got adventure, danger, suspense, drama, the supernatural, the supra-nautical!   It's really something!  One author refers to it as “the greatest sea voyage story in the Bible and one of the best in all of Greek and Roman literature.”  (Gerhard Krodel)

 

            It's not the first time Paul has been rocked by a gail at sea.  In his letters to the church in Corinth Paul writes: “Three times I've been shipwrecked.  Once I even spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea!”  (2 Cor 11:25)  Strange that Luke doesn't take the time to tell us of those ordeals.  Still, Luke spends more time telling this story than any other story he tells of Paul in the Book of Acts.  Why is that, I wonder?  Well, one, as I said, is, its just a great story.  And two, there are some great insights for those of us who seek to know and follow Christ, especially when we, too, face stormy seas!

 

            In modern times, when there's a big story, reporters rush to the scene and try and get an exclusive interview with a first hand witness or two.  So I've managed to arrange an interview with an eye-witness to the events Luke describes in Acts 27.  So with no further adieu, would you please give a warm welcome to our guest..., Aristarchus of Thessalonica...!

 

 

Check Out a video of this : 

"https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_JWENLPSZE"

 

Aristarchus:                 Thank you...!  Thank you, very much! 

Pastor Don:                Welcome!  Welcome Aristarchus!  I'm so happy you could join us, this morning.

A:        Yes!  Thank you.   It's good to be here!

D:        So Aristarchus, Luke reports that you were part of this amazing sea voyage in which                                 Paul and everyone on board wound up getting ship-wrecked.  Is that right?

A:        Yes, that's right.  All I can say is its a good thing I can swim – Stroke, stroke, stroke...! 

D:        Okay!  So, I understand you're a friend of Paul's.  Can you tell us how you met? 

A:        Sure.  We met on Paul's second missionary trip when he came to Macedonia and told us               in Thessalonica how Jesus was the Messiah the Jews had long been waiting for. 

D:        I see.  And that's when you became a follower of Jesus?    

A:        That's right!  Paul spoke of how Jesus was anointed in the Holy Spirit and did amazing

            things in the power of the Spirit and Paul demonstrated the same power in the things he

            said and did.  I came to believe in Jesus who is still doing amazing things!

D:        That's great!  So when, exactly, did you hook up with Paul?

A:        Well, a few years after our church in Thessalonica was born Paul returned to encourage

            us.  I was so moved that I asked if I could come along and help on his third trip. 

D:        I hear you guys ran into some trouble in Ephesus?

A:        Yeah, that was a bit of nasty business, it was.  The whole city was in an uproar!

D:        Luke tells us that “everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and

            Aristarchus, who were Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia.”  (Acts 19:29)

A:        Yup, that was a drag! Never a dull moment! Hangin’ out w/ Paul is anything but boring! 

D:        I bet!  So that trip ended when Paul returned to Jerusalem...  The reason Paul was on 

            your ship was because he'd been arrested and was being taken to Rome to stand trial.    

A:        That's correct. 

D:        So what were you doing on that ship?  Doesn't sound like much of a pleasure cruise. 

A:        No – it wasn't.  Have you ever eaten what they serve on those ships? 

D:        Fish and chips? 

A:        Not exactly...  I was on the ship to support Paul, by the way – and to learn from him. 

                                                                       

 

-2-

 

D:        Okay.  So what happened? 

A:        Well, you heard Luke's account.  We actually wound up on several ships.  There was the

            ship we took from Caesarea to Sidon, then another from Sidon to Myra, then we hopped

            on an Egyptian cargo ship that was headed to Rome. After several days of putzing along

            the coast we arrived at the port of Cnidus. 

D:        Gesundheit!   Wait – Cnidus...?  Never heard of it!

A:        And for good reason.  The next day we sailed off to Crete, hugging the shoreline until

            we got to the port of Fair Havens.  It was fair but it was no heaven! 

D:        I see.  And that's when Paul talked to the ship's officers, wasn't it?

A:        That's right.  He warned them of the trouble ahead.  He prophesied that the cargo on

            board would be lost, the boat would be shipwrecked and our very lives would be in peril               But the ship's captain was determined to get to Phoenix for the winter. 

D:        He wanted to sail to Phoenix, Arizona?   He must've been a snowbird, huh?

A:        Snowbird?  Arizona, what's that?  No, Phoenix is further up the coast of Crete. 

D:        Oh.  Okay, so what happened?  Did you ever make it to Phoenix? 

A:        No, we didn't.  Once we set sail from Fair Havens we're blown out to sea by a monster

            typhoon.   It was like being caught up in a tempest.  It was terrifying!  The captain and

            his crew did everything they could – tying ropes around the hull, securing the life-boat,                            tossing overboard precious cargo and gear, even using the anchor to slow us down! 

D:        Sounds pretty intense! 

A:        Intense doesn't cut it.  We were all...absolutely petrified. 

D:        So what was the scariest moment for you, personally?

A:        I'm not sure.  That stretch when we're in the midst of the storm, and clouds blocked out                             the sun during the day and the moon and stars at night.  It was just so utterly dark! 

D:        That would be scarey...

A:        Then again, when the captain and his crew decided to abandon ship and leave us to our

            fates – that was intense. None of us knew how to man or navigate a ship.  I've never felt

            so helpless or powerless in my life!  Without the stars to navigate, we had no idea where 

D:        Sounds pretty discouraging alright. 

A:        Maybe worst of all, though, was when the ship hit a shoal and ran aground off the shore

            of Malta. That's when the crew wanted to kill the prisoners.  After all we'd just been thru              I don't know what I would've done if they'd killed Paul.  And if that wasn't bad enough,                               we were told we'd have to swim for it!   I'm no fish but I sure do flounder! 

D:        Uh-huh.   So tell us, Aristarchus, what helped you prevail in the midst of the gale?

A:        Hmm.  Well, I'd say it was the Christ I saw in Paul. 

D:        The Christ you saw in Paul?  How do you mean?

A:        Well, there was a number of things.  There was the prophetic warning he gave that I                                 mentioned.  That increased our confidence that God was speaking to Paul and that He

            was speaking to Paul on our benefit.  When his prophecy came true, it confirmed that

            God was using him to encourage us, to help us. 

D:        I see.   That makes sense. 

A:        Also the way he talked of God's plan.  When he told us of how an angel had visited him

            there on the ship and told him that nothing would keep him from reaching Rome, that

            God's plan to invade the enemy's territory in heart of the Roman empire would prevail,

            gale or no gale, I was encouraged to know that in serving that plan I was exactly where

            God wanted me to be and doing what he wanted me to do.  That gave me courage....

D:        No doubt, it did! 

                                                                       

 

-3-

 

A:        Also the way Paul demonstrated God's grace to everyone on board was inspiring – the

            way he spoke to the ship's captain and his Roman guard with respect and kindness; and                            the way he urged the sailors not to abandon ship, knowing that if they did they would all

            perish, reminded me of the stories of Jesus loving on sinners and pagans.  Paul gave me

            a glimpse of God's grace in human flesh and gave me a model of grace to aspire to. 

D:        Fascinating!   Anything else? 

A:        Yeah.  Paul's calm courage, even in the darkest, deadliest moments of the storm, taught

            me something about what true courage looks like.  It's not that Paul wasn't afraid.  He

            faced the same onslaught of wind and wave that I did, that we all did, but Paul wasn't

            undone by it.  Courage is not the absence of fear, but faith in God while feeling fear. 

            As Paul said, “Take courage!  For I believe God – all will happen just as he's said!” Acts                                                                                                                                                          27:25 

D:        That's powerful!  No wonder you like to hang out with Paul! 

A:        I do!  I like to hang out with those who bring Christ to life!  It's all about Jesus!

D:        Agreed.  Thanks so much, Aristarchus.  It's been a treat!  Thanks for joining us!

A:        Absolutely!  Just don't mention the fish and chips.  I don't think I can eat any more fish! 

           

            Right!   Would you give it up for my friend, Aristarchus of Thessalonica...! 

            Good ole' Aristarchus – his and Paul's Christ-centered focus gave them great courage.   We can learn a lot from them as we face similar storms today.  Consider again, the following four factors:

 

            One, God provides his people powerful spiritual gifts! The one that came into play here was the spiritual gift of prophecy. When Paul offered a prophetic word that was later fulfilled, it encouraged others with the confidence that God was speaking to them, that God cared.  The other spiritual gifts of healing and words of knowledge, for example, serve a similar purpose.  The Holy Spirit speaks thru these gifts to encourage the church and equip us to courageously do God's will.  For more on how God uses the gift of prophecy to this end check out the sermon from July 29th... 

 

            Two, Paul pointed to God's plan to spread Christ's kingdom against all odds.  Specifically, Paul spoke of God's plan to bring the gospel to Rome, invading the enemy's realm of darkness with the light of Christ.   God made it clear to Paul that nothing would prevent Paul from doing so...!  

 

              This was in sync with God's plan, as Jesus himself embodied it.  As Scripture testifies: “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.”  (1 John 3:8)  And what are those evil works?  Whatever keeps people impoverished, captive to despair and darkness, spiritually blind or oppressed, physically or morally ill – those are the works of the devil.  These are the storms that assail us from within as well as without.  But in his most clear mission statement, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free...”  (Luke 4:18-19)  

 

            Whenever we're helping that happen we can be confident that, like Aristarchus and Paul, we're right where we belong!  Praying for healing and deliverance puts us in the eye of the storm and dead center in God's plan for us and those around us.  My friends, you're right where you belong! 

 

            Three, our lives are enriched, no matter the storm, as we live out God's grace.

  Paul's grace-filled approach to those on board serves as an encouraging model to follow.  No conversions are mentioned but that's not really the point.  The point is being faithful to the Spirit of Christ.  No one I know of ever came to faith by losing an argument with a Christian, but many have had their hearts softened... 

                                                                        -4-

 

            One such heart was that of Rosaria Butterfield who described herself in an interview with Christianity Today in 2013 as “A leftist lesbian professor who despised Christians”“Brainless, pointless, dangerous – that's what I thought of Christians and their god, Jesus, who in paintings looked as powerful as a Breck Shampoo commercial model”, she wrote in a article that was published in a local newspaper.  The responses to her article she filed under 'hate mail' or 'fan mail', save one. 

 

            In a kind and inquiring spirit, a Presbyterian pastor from Syracuse, NY, invited her to meet for dinner to explore further her conclusions.   Eventually she did just that and was amazed that she soon became friends with pastor Ken and his wife, Floy. “They entered my world.  They met my friends.  We exchanged books and talked freely though our worldviews differed greatly.  They did not treat me like a project nor did they act as if such conversations were polluting them.” 

 

            Then one day, I found myself in their church, feeling conspicuous with my butch hair-cut, and Despite myself, I came to Jesus, openhanded and naked. In this war of worldviews, Ken was there. Floy was there. The church that had been praying for me for years was there. I was a broken mess, my con-version was a train wreck, but the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world.”  

                                                                                    (from Phillip Yancey's Vanishing Grace)

            Rosaria Butterfield, now herself a pastor's wife, came to faith by the tender care and embodied grace of God through two Christians who pointed to Jesus, who looked at (her) and loved (her)...

                                                                                                                        (Mark 10:29)

            Finally, four, we come to be courageous Christians by trusting in God in the midst of the storm.  No one has inspired me more directly in this way than Nick Taylor, who, while his health failed, clung to Christ and showed such amazing resilience and courage, that he inspired everyone around him.  Like Paul, he had an encounter with his risen Lord when in Alpha he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and through that encounter was able to weather any storm, even that of losing the fight to illness. 

 

            Nick and so many others I've known over the years, have reflected such courage precisely because they were able to trust in Jesus, because they knew he is good and good to his word, so “Take courage!  Believe God – all will happen just as he's said!”                             (Acts 27:25)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Circumstances Get in the Way of Life

When Circumstances Get in the Way of Life          

Jamie Maciejewski

Acts 24:1-27

                                                                             August 12, 2018

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

First, don't take shortcuts. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

When we find ourselves on a detour, we need to rely on God even more than we usually do.  Because Paul trusted God, he could walk straight into that detour, knowing God had his hand on him every step of the way.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Rom. 8:28 NLT)

 

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

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"THE LAST LEG"

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JULY 29th, 2018                                                                                            PASTOR DON PIEPER

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

"THE LAST LEG"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

(1 Timothy 4:12)

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

(Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28)

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

(1 Corinthians 14:1)

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

(1 Corinthians 14:4)

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

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

Hobbes:         ...No life.

Calvin:           Life is too inconvenient.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

(1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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