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NOVEMBER 18th, 2018                                                                               PASTOR DON PIEPER

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

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

                                                “FAMOUS LAST WORDS ”                                      


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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



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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

                                                                                                                        (Mark 8:34)



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

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

                                                                                                                        (2 Timothy 3:1,8,13)

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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NOVEMBER 4TH, 2018                                                                              PASTOR DON PIEPER

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

                                                “THE LAST LAP


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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



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

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:2-3) 

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

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:9-10) 

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


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

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


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


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


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

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:12)

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


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





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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

                                                                                                            (Philippians 4:6-7) 



OCTOBER 28th, 2018                                                                                   PASTOR DON PIEPER

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


                                    “LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!


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


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

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

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

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

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

Calvin:                        I got another letter from my past self. 

Hobbes:           What's it say?

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

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

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

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


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

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

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 1:9-11)

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

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


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

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


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

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






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


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


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


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

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

                                                                                                            (Philippians 2:3-8)

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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






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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


Tale of Two Slaves

Tale of Two Slaves                                                                                          Jamie Maciejewski

Philemon 1-25                                                                                     October 21, 2018



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Live your life.

Title_Paul-in-Prison 10-14-18.jpg

Sermon 10142018

Romans 12:3-16

Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-16

Live your life.

"Mail from Jail"

We talked last week about love and God's love for us. Pastor Don noted that we don't experience God's love because we devalue ourselves, because we inflate our selves and we distract ourselves. We prayed to have a clear understanding and most importantly the power to experience God's love for us. At the end of the prayer, we asked God to "accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."

If we lived a life where God would "accomplish

infinitely more than we might ask or think", what would it look like? Keep that in mind as we move forward today.

Today we read that we should:

Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Ephesians 4:1b

Today we will explore what this means. We will note

that Paul talks about

Ways to live.

Who to live with.

What happens, (or what does this look like?).

Paul tells them (us) to:
Get real.

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in


accordance with the faith God has distributed to each

of you.

Romans 12:3b

This means getting real about who we are. Sinner to Saint: A story...

There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother, the instructions of Ambrose and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures, redirected Augustine's love of life to a life of love. https://www.franciscanmedia.orq/saint-auclustine-of-hippo/

Sinner (we are)

Saint (we are!)

Redeemed - Justified


Completely humble

Last week Pastor Don talked about how we

sometimes overvalue ourselves, that is, we aren't

realistic about who we are.


Power under control


a sense of understanding, of accepting

bearing with one another in love.

These are some of the characteristics of Jesus. Thinking of ourselves with sober judgement means


getting real about who we are, who's we are and about our relationship with others. There is a relational aspect to our sober judgement.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Jesus prayed to the Father that we would be one as He and the Father are one. That's unity. Paul discusses this unity; it is a key point in this passage. The description of the "Body of Christ" is central.

Part of this unity has "Body" implications, and some individual:

Love must be sincere

Love has to have an object or objects. Love is a

"Body" thing.

Hate what is evil

Cling to what is good.

Hating evil and clinging to the good involves turning from sin and turning to the Gospel. After the gospel comes the power, will and desire to do good. This is an individual thing.

Be devoted to one another in love.

Here this devotion is a supporting attitude. I can't help think of the hating evil and clinging to the good which precedes it. We help each other turn from the wrong and turn to the right. We commend, help accountability, and most importantly come along side those who need help. All in love.

Honor one another above yourselves.
Just like Jesus.


Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

I find this hard sometimes. Living every day powered up is hard for me. I think doing His work, helping, serving, is a way of accomplishing being powered up.

Be joyful in hope.

Patient in affliction.
Faithful in prayer.

Life is hard, it's said, but God is good. No matter what we go through, God stands with us. We may feel alone, but we are not.

This list reminds me of the "Fruit of the Spirit" list

Paul talks about.   He identifies these as:

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control...

Galatians 5:22

(Discuss fruit v gifts).

Through God's power, he can "accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." Just as Pastor Don mentioned last week. This fruit which comes from the Spirit lives in each of us believers and God wants to bring this fruit to full ripeness in us all.

Paul notes that if we can do this...
Then we will no longer be infants,
tossed back and forth by the waves


blown here and there by every wind of teaching by the cunning and craftiness of people

in their deceitful scheming.
Ephesians 4:14

The solidness of a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit is unassailable. Nothing can bring it down. Notice that Paul refers to "every wind of teaching". This is a reference to false teachings as well as being conformed to the world. In Romans 12:2, just before our first reading today, Paul urges the church to:

...not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

This renewing involves holding to what is true, (the Word of God), and rejecting that which is against the truth. It involves discernment where we hold ideas up to see what is right and wrong.

Last year Jamie and I were installed here to serve this body. Pastor Don charged us, just as he had been charged, to preach Law and Gospel. I'm doing that now. Jamie will do that next week. Pastor Don does that each week. Both Law and Gospel are necessary, both are part of God's call on our lives.

Paul identifies our unity and our calling as antidotes to the schemes and deceit of the world.

(discuss the "world" as system, not as the physical creation, etc...)


speaking the truth in love,


we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head,

that is, Christ.

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Ephesians 4:15-16

This body, the Body of Christ, is the working out of God's Kingdom in the world. The battle against the world's system lies with God working through us. It's His fight, though. He has the power, we don't. At the cross, Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom. He is the King. But His Kingdom is not completely established.

Years ago, as a new Special Agent...

That's how the fight goes, one good act at a time, helping one person at a time. Being faithful the best we can. Working out (or out of) our own salvation. Being Jesus to people we meet.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-8

What are your gifts? What can you do? Shouldn't we

all find out?

The end of this change in our lives is to form a church unified. Persons of all nations made one in Jesus.


Living together, loving each other, caring for one another.

The thrust of Paul's letter from prison is for the Ephesians to put off the evil of the world as a unified body of Christ. He contrasts the world and it's system with the unified and strong Body headed by the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

We too are called to put off evil, and live Holy lives. We too are called to live in unity with each other and with the Body of Christ in this church, in our community, in this country and in the world.

This is living a life worthy of our calling. Let us pray.


Augustine's internal conflict came to a head in a garden in August of 386, as he sat tormented by indecision and powerlessness. Finally, weeping with despair and crying out to God, he thought he heard a child's voice chanting, as if in a game, "Take and read! Take and read!" Understanding this to be a sign from God, Augustine opened his copy of Paul's epistles and read the first thing he saw. His eyes fell on Romans 13:13-14: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." Augustine later wrote of the moment, "I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows


of doubt were dispelled." Following a quiet winter spent at Cassiacum with family and friends, the newly-converted Augustine was baptized, along with his son and a friend, on Easter 387. http://www.religionfacts.com/augustine



Title image_Sermon 10-7-18.jpg

OCTOBER 7th, 2018                                                                         PASTOR DON PIEPER

MAIL FROM JAIL                                                                          EPHESIANS 2:19-3:7; 8-21


                                    “THE HEART OF THE MATTER


            We've been reading from the Apostle Paul's inspired letters to the early church, written while in chains in Rome to those being cut loose, these words, written in ancient Greek, a dead language, are alive in their timeless relevancy.  Still, should we even be reading them?  Isn't there a law against opening other people's mail?  We could get in trouble – kinda like my young Calvin friend...


Susie:             Calvin!  Pass this note to Jessica.    It's a secret note.  So don't read it. 

Calvin:                        (smiles malevolently, reads...:) Calvin, you stinkhead, I told you not to read this. Susie.

                                                                                                            (The Essential..., p. 43)

            I told you you could get in trouble!  Yet, like Susie's note, Paul seeks to impart secrets as well – what he calls, God's Mysterious Plan. But Paul's letter, unlike Susie's note, is not meant for an audience of one, but many.  In fact Paul's letters, including this one written to the church in Ephesus, were meant to be shared – to be passed from one church to another. 


            And at the heart of this letter, both in terms of its literary location but in terms of its significance – Paul offers a glimpse of the very heart of God!  “Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit,” Paul declares, “because of what Christ has done for us.”  (Ephesians 2:18)


            All of us, meaning Jew and Gentile!  God has broken down walls of hostility so that sinners of all shape and manner may be saved.  This is God's mysterious plan, in the hopes that all may be saved – that all of us can come to the Father.  And the safety net God has thrown us is that of His own son...


            “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence.”  (Ephesians 3:12)  This was the mysterious plan that God the Creator of all things had kept secret from the beginning.  God's purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom …”   (Ephesians 3:9-10)   That is, as the church is Christ's hospital for sinners, it displays God's grace and goodness by revealing the kind of people God loves – all of us!   And Paul's prayer reveals God means for us to both understand …, as well as experience, His reckless love for us. 


            But comprehension is not so easy. Paul concedes that we will never fully comprehend it. (3:19) That's not too surprising.  We struggle to comprehend love in general: She loves me; she loves me not...   


            It brings to mind the husband who decided to honor his wife for her birthday.  When he asked what she'd like for her birthday, she answered, “I'd like to be sixteen again.”  Right! 

            The next day he whisked her off to a nearby amusement park where they did the whoop-to-whoop, the triple-decker ferris wheel, and the tower of fear roller coaster.  He bought her cotton candy and pizza and then took her out to the movies and watched the most recent Star Wars movie.

            When they arrived at home she collapsed on the bed.  'what was it like to be 16 again,' he asked. 

She opened an eye and glared at him, “I was talking about my dress size, you idiot!”

            So you see, even if he is listening, he may still not get it right. He may still not comprehend... 


            If we can't comprehend the mindset or the heart of those we can see, how can we hope to ever comprehend that of the Almighty?  Yet, even so, Paul prays that we may “have the power to under-stand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God's love for us really is.”  (Ephesians 3:18)


            Why does Paul bother to pray this if no one will ever fully understand it?  Because the ability to comprehend is a gift.  It comes thru a power that is beyond us, the power of the Holy Spirit.  That's why Paul prays not only for an understanding but for an experience: “May you experience the love of Christ, then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”  (Eph.3:19)


            But if God's love is so deep, wide, long and high – what keeps us from experiencing his love all the time, 24/7?   Three things get in the way: 1) We devalue ourselves; 2) We inflate our selves; and 3) We distract ourselves. 

            Many of us devalue ourselves.  We become convinced that God could never really love us.  Usually this is because we've come to believe a lie about us, or God, or both – a lie, like, we're nothing


Charlie Brown:           I can't talk to that little red-haired girl because she's really something and I'm

            nothing.  If I were something and she were nothing, I could talk to her or if she were something

            and I were something, then I could talk to her... Or if she were nothing and I were nothing, then

            I also could talk to her..., but she's something and I'm nothing so I can't talk to her...”

Linus:              For a nothing, Charlie Brown, you're really something.  

                                                                                                (The Parables of Peanuts, p. 167-8)

            For those who devalue themselves, listening to lies about who they are or aren't, scripture offers some powerful truth to counter those lies such as you were created in the image of God, or,..., God so loves you that he sent his only son.   Or this one: “(You) are God's masterpiece.  He created you anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for you long ago.”  (Ephesians 2:10)  Those of us inclined to devalue ourselves would do well to keep morsels of such truth handy. 


            On the other hand, many go to the other extreme of inflating themselves, convincing themselves of themselves, that they don't need help from beyond.  As it says on a bumper-sticker I saw in town recently: “I couldn't have done it without me.”   Wow!  Really?  Some of us risk pulling a muscle patting ourselves on the back.  And our culture caters to that!  'You deserve a break today.' 


            You've heard how an American changes a light bulb, haven't you?  He or she just grabs on to the light bulb and waits for the world to revolve around them!  Pastor Erwin McManus speaks to this:

            “There's a difference between loving ourselves and being in love with ourselves.  When we're in love with ourselves we are prone to only listen to what we want to hear.  We want to feel good about ourselves more than we want ourselves to be good.  When we fill our lives with loving ourselves, we make no room to experience God's love for us.”  (Erwin McManus)   

            If we're to experience the love of God in all its power than we must simultaneously see our selves as prince and beggar.  In the words of Martin Buber: “Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other according to his needs.  In his right pocket are to be the words, 'For my sake was the world created,' and in his left pocket; 'I am dust and ashes.'”   (Martin Buber)


            A third hindrance is that of our being distracted.  We touched on this last week...  One problem we have is that of being too busy.  Never in the history of the world have so many people tried to cram so many activities into a 24 hour day.  But truth is, we have no less time than our ancestors.  We're just more stretched.  As Bilbo Baggins put it …  “I feel like too little butter spread over too much toast...”


            Many of us can relate.  After all, “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

                                                                                    (the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland)



            But if we want to sense the presence of God, if we want to experience his love for us in all its fullness, then we must slow down...and still down.   It’s interesting to note that the majority of folks who share what they liked most about Alpha, tend to celebrate the moment we all got quiet …


            So how does that work?  How can you experience more of His love for you?  Paul's prayer points the way.  Among other things, he prays, “May Christ make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.”  (Eph 3:17)  It starts by our inviting him into the most intimate, private places of our lives, just as our homes are the most intimate private places....


            Ever visit someone who told you as you entered their home, “make yourself at home”?  Well, if anyone ever does, don't believe them!  They don't mean it!  And neither do you!   We don't really want them to make themselves at home!  What would that look like?  They'd help themselves to your food, eat up your favorite snacks, sit in your favorite recliner, hog the TV, leave their smelly socks in the living room, brush their teeth with your toothbrush, and sing in the shower – loudly and off-key!


            They'd move in and never move out!  And Jesus, he'd see what you eat, how much you drink, how you talk to your spouse when your tired!  He'd see what you spend your money on, what kind of movies you watch, your closet skeletons, and your colorful underwear!  And that's just your home – Paul is saying we should make him at home in our hearts!  That means he's also going to be privy to what you think about, what you dream and fantasize about, what you fear and your buried pain.  He knows all that already and still wants to come in and make himself at home amidst your dirty laundry.  

            Paul's saying, the one who loves you like no other, wants to come in …   His plan is to share his heart with you – his heart for you – and how he can help make the best you!  Will you let him in?


            Second, Paul prays that your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong.  (Eph 3:17)  We sink our roots into God's love by rooting our day to day lives in his Word.  Paul's metaphor echoes back to the very first psalm: “Those who delight in the word of the Lord, meditating on it day and night, are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.”  (Psalm 1:2-3)  


            By spending time in the Word we come to understand and appreciate the heart and mind of God.  We come to recognize his voice, his still, quiet and beautiful voice.  I'm not sure when but some where along the way of twenty-five years of marriage I came to recognize Claudia's voice.  I can pick out her voice in a crowded room.  She could remain hidden to me by being silent but as soon as she begins to talk and laugh my Claudia antennae can pick her out anywhere. 

            So it is with Jesus – or so it should be.  If we spend enough time with him, if he's at home in our home and in our hearts, he will speak life and truth and love into our lives, and we'll recognize him!  


            Finally, Paul prays for his friends to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that “God will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit..., so that you may experience the love of Christ..., and so that you will be filled with the fullness of life and power from God.”  (Ephesians 3:16, 19)


            That is God's heart, to empower you with His Spirit as you experience Christ's love for you.  It's

a life-changer!  Paul says that with the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, “we're able to accomplish infinitely more than we might even think or ask for!”   (Ephesians 3:20)

            That means whenever we gather together we should expect amazing things to happen!  God has made us a force to be reckoned with, praying prayers that make Satan tremble, as God's reckless love fills us and flows through us to those around us, especially those who are desperate to be so loved! 



            I've experienced that love at worship, and when Alpha friends prayed for me at HTB, and during a fast once, and when some of you prayed for me but most consistently God's reckless love has filled me as I am given the chance to pray for others.  I think that's how it’s supposed to work.  We receive so we can give it away.  It grows as it’s shared. 

            So how about you?  Can you comprehend how much God loves you?  Would you like to...?


            Let me/us pray over you. Let's pray: “I pray now that from God's glorious unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.  I pray that Christ will fully make his home in your heart(s) as you increasingly trust in him.  May your roots grow down into God's love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his (reckless) love for you is.  May you experience the love of Christ though it is too great to understand fully.  (And as He fills you with His Spirit), may you be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.


            Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accom-plish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus though all generations, forever and ever!  Amen!”                               (Ephesians 3:16-21)


SEPTEMBER 30th, 2018                                                                              PASTOR DON PIEPER

“Mail From Jail”                                                                                           Ephesians 1:1-11; 12-23


                                    “GOD'S  MYSTERIOUS PLAN



            Confined to house arrest, chained to a Roman guard, Paul dictates letters to churches far and wide across the Roman empire.   We read Colossians, now we turn to Ephesians, and I must admit, I'm so excited.  It's probably my favorite letter, although Romans and Corinthians are right in there as well.


            But Ephesians is so rich, and Paul's love for this church goes so deep.  He was there for three years - longer than any other church he planted.  Located on the southwestern shore of Asia, Ephesus is due east of Athens from across the Aegean Sea, and in Paul's day, by far the more prominent city.  It was such a blend of peoples and cultures....and religions.  As in our day, there was a tendency to blend practices and teachings from that blend.  Paul's letters to the Colossians and Ephesians are no simple greetings – but corrections and clarifications about the identity and mission of Christ. 


            When I was in seminary, I read a commentary in which Ephesians was referred to as  “Paul's mysterious letter”.  What, you may inquire, is a mysterious letter?  Well..., Calvin got one once....


Calvin :           Look, Hobbes, I got a mysterious letter!  The return address is a skull with x-ed out

                        eyes!  It was a local postmark, though.  So I must know the person.  

Hobbes:           Oh Boy, intrigue!   

Calvin:                        But who would send me an anonymous letter like this?

Hobbes:           Maybe a Girl! 

Calvin:            GAAA!!  Doesn't the post office screen anything?!

Hobbes:           I'll get you some gloves!                                                                                                                                                                                 (It's..., p. 135)

            Calvin is such a cool cucumber, isn't he?  So, that's not the kind of mysterious letter we're talkin' about. Paul's letter is not anonymous, for one thing.  He makes it quite clear who the author of the letter is: “This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus...”  (Eph 1:1)


            I'm sorry to say but there's no skull with x-ed out eyes, either.  But make no mistake, Ephesians is a mysterious letter.  At least it has a number of mystery elements.  For one thing, no church since the one in Jerusalem was more clearly launched by a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit than the one in Ephesus.  Remember that?  We read about it back in May.  Luke, Paul's traveling buddy, writes:


            “Paul traveled through the interior regions (of Asia) until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers. 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' he asked them.

            'No,' they replied.  'We haven't even heard that there is a Holy Spirit...' Then, when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in other languages and prophesied.                                                                                                                    (Acts 19:1-2, 6-7)   

            Sounds pretty mysterious to me!  There's also the mystery surrounding the letter's authorship.  Some scholars have questioned whether Paul is the author since the literary syntax of the letter is different than Paul's other letters.  Those questions have lent the letter a modern mystery bent. 


            I must say, though, to question the letter's authorship because of a shift in literary style is a pretty weak argument.  The shift could be explained in a number of other ways, such as the fact that Paul dictated his letters, and we know that the person doing the scribe work was ever changing.  Paul could well also deliberately change the style based on the purpose and audience of the letter. (Romans!)



            The letter is also mysterious in its unusual parallel to Colossians.  Many themes are found in both: “God chose you to be the holy people he loves.”  (Colossians 3:12) And, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy...”  (Ephesians 1:4)  There's a lot of that...


            But of all its mysterious qualities the one which is by far the most profound, timeless, and elo-quent, is that of Paul revisiting the Colossian theme of God's mysterious plan.  “This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to His people.”

                                                                                                                        (Colossians 1:25-26)

            And to the Ephesians: “God has now revealed to us His mysterious will regarding Christ – which is to fulfill His own good plan.”  (Ephesians 1:9)  That plan, as Paul unpacks it, has a number of facets to it.  The first is the simple, good news that God has a plan!  When life feels out of control, one begins to wonder.  After all, our own plans are not always.....so good...or end so well...

            [DVD clip from Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail;                                   ]     


            In contrast to our plans, God has a good plan: “God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do and it gave Him great pleasure!”  (Ephesians 1:5)  So God's mysterious plan is mysterious in part because God decided in advance – even before he made the world – to adopt you.   God sure has had his eye on you! 


            I love how Paul articulates that.  It's not that Jesus was forced to go to the cross or that the Father reluctantly let him go.  Christ humbled himself and laid himself out for and to you – with great pleasure – so eager is God in his great love for you to adopt you as his very own, and draw you close!


             Having established that, Paul writes: “And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ – everything in heaven and on earth.”  (Eph 1:10)


            Well, that's certainly good news!  But on the other hand – isn't that kinda cheatin'?   You know, giving things away?  It's like all those intellectuals out there – and yes, you know who you are – those bookworms in our midst, folks who like to curl up to a good book, and get all caught up in the intrigue and mystery of the story – but not before opening the book to the final pages to see how it all ends...! 


            You know who you are?  I'm married to one of you book-wormy types!  Isn't that what Paul is doing here?  Yeah, well, actually it is!  And I'm actually totally alright with that.  He's saying that by choosing to follow Jesus we follow the one who's ultimately going to be in charge – fully in charge.


            Not only that but look at what kind of person will ultimately be running the place: “He's to be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice...for all eternity.”  (Isaiah 9:6-7)

            God's plan?  He's putting Jesus in charge – up there as well as done here – at just the right time! 


            But that's not all!  “Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for He chose us in advance...”  (Ephesians 1:11)

            There's that bit about being chosen again – and chosen in advance!   I sometimes wonder, tho', if God's eyesight isn't so good.  I mean think about some of the yo-yo's he's chosen over the years: a coward, a thief, a murderer, an adulterer, a traitor, and so on and so on.  Paul even points to it in these letters: “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world...  All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.”  (Ephesians 2:2-3) 




            And yet, he chose us.  Obviously not because of what awesome people we are, that's clear.  Something else compelled him, but before spelling that out, Paul adds this: “And he makes everything work out according to his plan.”  (Ephesians 1:11)  Uh-oh, he's opening up the end of the book again!


            It reminds me of Charles Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist.  Do you know it?  It's the story of boy who is left as a baby on the doorstep of an orphanage where he is raised in an abusive environment in London's inner city.  Eventually he manages to escape and winds up being taken in by a street urchin and his Sugardaddy overlord, Finney, who enlists orphans as his army of pick-pockets.  Oliver has more than one brush with the law and with death before being discovered by a kind, affluent couple from the burbs.  The story ends with Oliver being adopted as their lawful son. 


            In a sense that's our story and Paul is pointing to the final chapter.  Life may throw you a few hurdles, you may find yourself in a situation you wish you could escape, you may feel like you're proverbial pockets have been picked, but in the end, Paul says, you'll be welcomed home, chosen by the head of the household to be his adopted son or daughter, and heir to the estate. 


            But there's more!  Paul continues with this: “God's purpose was ...to identify you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.”  (Ephesians 1:13)  We wondered a moment ago what compelled God to choose the likes of us – His deep desire to claim you and you him...!


            Not only that but Paul makes it clear here that part of God's plan from long ago was to give you the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit by which Jesus healed the lame and raised the dead, the same Spirit by which the prophets of old prophesied about ways God would make good on His promises.  For “The Spirit is God's guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His own people.”  (Ephesians 1:14) 


            Remember, Paul is writing to this community of believers who, when he laid his hands on them, were powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues and prophesied, proving that God was making good on his promises and that Christ's kingdom was breaking loose among and thru them. 


            God is still making good on those promises – even now...  Some of my favorite moments in ministry here have been moments at Alpha retreats or Sunday worship in which folks experienced a life-changing encounter with God as they were filled with his Spirit, of old lies being exposed and truth bringing freedom, of a guest having his ears healed, another of his back being straightened, of a women healed of lupus, of Josh's health miraculously restored, of a quarreling couple reconciled, but most of all – of person after person, including myself, having our world rocked as God shared his love for me!   


            That reality would prompt one more facet of God's mysterious plan: “God did this so we would praise and glorify him.”  (Ephesians 1:14)  When we do we get caught up in a holy dance that has also been going from long ago – that of the Father glorifying the son, who delights in the Spirit, who points to the Father by glorifying the Son, and around and around this cosmic circle of loving fellowship goes.


            As it always has and always will.  And we are called, no chosen, to get all caught up in it our selves, because in doing so, in seeking out God and experiencing his love for us we come to sense the very purpose for which we live and breathe and have meaning.  So it is that Paul moves from sharing God's mysterious plan to praying over his friends that they may get it – really get it - how much they're loved!  That's my longing for you as well.  So as we did with his Colossian prayer I'd like to pray his Ephesian prayer over you now.  If you would close your eyes..., relax, and receive...


SEPTEMBER 23rd, 2018                                                                        PASTOR DON PIEPER

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



                                                “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)



            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) 



            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. 



            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)