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This is a little talk about economics. But it’s OK.

We had lunch here at the church a week ago. It was a free lunch – for us. But the pizza didn’t just appear like manna – the church paid the pizza company. And where did the church get its money? From us. And where did we get our money? From working. And where did our employers get their money? By selling things, to people who got their money from working.

If you trace it far enough back, you run out of money and get into barter – buying stuff with things or your time instead of cash. You can trace through the process of getting things and having time, and if you follow it all the way back, both things and time come from God. They were a gift to Adam and Eve, and on down to all of us. All the stuff you see – everything you can touch or sense – is a gift from God.

And then we switch over from the physical world to the spiritual world (although they aren’t really separate) and you see that our salvation is a gift from God, in the form of Jesus, who paid the price for our sins. He didn’t need to die for His own sins – He had none. And He didn’t need to die for our sins – my sins, your sins – there was no obligation there. But there was love, from God the Father and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. And that love drove Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins, loving us to His death on the cross.

That is what we are remembering now, with the wafer representing His body and the juice His blood. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 says The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Let’s pray.

Lord, the physical things we see around us – cars, houses, even our bodies – are all transitory. They won’t survive being ours beyond our death. But the spiritual gifts You have given us – salvation and the hope for a future – are eternal, and were bought with the precious blood of Christ. Thank You for that unimaginable sacrifice, bought with Jesus’ body and blood and anguish. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

I had the opportunity last night to lead our small group Bible study.  We’re going through Philippians a few verses at a time.  Here is what I presented.

Philippians 1:12-14 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.


12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. The Message: I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered.

This is not news about his imprisonment.  They have heard about that.  This is news about the impact of Paul being locked up.  And it’s good news!

These are his friends.  This letter is to the Philippians, the people who lived and worshiped in Philippi.  We know for sure that it includes Lydia, the seller of purple.  Acts 16:13-15 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Boom – church planted.  That’s who he was writing to – Lydia and the people who were worshiping with her.  But there might have been two churches – not because of a split, but because Philippi was also where Paul and Silas were imprisoned, singing songs at midnight, when the earthquake came and opened the doors and loosened the chains. The jailer, who had been on the brink of suicide because he thought his prisoners had escaped, was baptized that night, and took Paul and Silas for a home-cooked meal.  That may have been Boom number two – another church.  We aren’t told in the Bible whether the jailer and Lydia worshiped together, or whether there were two house churches.  They both knew Paul, though, and both were concerned about him being in prison.

Sometimes I look at the Bible as if it was me in that situation.  If I was imprisoned, if I was in literal chains, I can see myself saying something like “Oh, no, don’t worry about me – I have the comfortable handcuffs on”.  And I would continue to gripe about the food, the cold, the lack of a good bed, and why aren’t you people doing something about this??  But not Paul – he has the right perspective.  He tells them the good news.  He is in chains – yes – but what he writes is not about himself.  When he says “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel”, he means it.  I read in a commentary that Paul was single-minded.  There’s a story about a mule that was put in-between two bales of hay, just out of reach from where he was standing.  And he starved to death because he couldn’t decide which he wanted.  Paul was not that way.  He puts himself in the proper place, which is being a tool of God.  I want to tell myself that the selfishness I see in me is just a symptom of the age – we invented the word “selfie”.  But it was the same way back then – Paul and Silas had been in prison for throwing a demon out of a slave girl, and her owners being rather unhappy about losing their source of income.  It’s been “all about me” for a while.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Paul believed that – and he also wrote it.


13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

Paul is not a political prisoner.  He isn’t a thief, a murderer, or a tax cheat.  He didn’t wake up one day and say “I dunno, Silas, what do you think of trying out prison today?” He is in prison because he is following God wherever it takes him.

And it has taken him to the palace guard – the Praetorium.  This would have been in Rome, and commentaries say there were anywhere from a few thousand up to ten thousand men in this group.  One of them was chained to Paul at all times. At the time of the writing of this letter to the Christians in Philippi, Paul had been locked up for two years.  I’m making some assumptions, but if they worked in 8-hour shifts, that’s three per day.  Two years is somewhere north of seven hundred days.  If everybody did only one shift with Paul, he would have personally talked to over two thousand of the guards.  At the top end estimate of ten thousand, that’s one out of every five of the guards there.

The guards were probably bunked in some dormitory – they wouldn’t have had private rooms.  So in each room, there would have been some number of guards who had spent some quantity time with Paul – and they would have talked.  Other guards would have heard the conversations – and like it says in Galatians 5:9  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” That’s Paul again, maybe thinking of this situation.

And as guards were transferred in and out of the Praetorium, the word of his imprisonment for Christ would have spread to “everyone else”, whether that meant all of Rome or all the soldiers.

Being “in chains for Christ” isn’t the same as people who crucify themselves at Easter time.  Paul is not trying to make a point, not using this as an object lesson.  He is tied up, a literal prisoner.  But he is using the circumstances that God put him in to preach the gospel.  He was in chains, but in the soldiers he had a captive audience.


14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Paul is a role model.  Not because of his chains (although I’m sure other Christians faced the same and worse), but because of how he dealt with the situation. He showed what was possible.  Circumstances do not force outcomes.  I think of a little girl in our church and her leg braces.  She’s cheerful – yes, a good mom who loves her and takes great care of her, but also a great God who loves her and takes care of her.  Paul was similar, in that the chains he was in didn’t determine his attitude or outcome.  I think he saw them as a tool, and didn’t let them hold him back.  As others saw and heard of what Paul was accomplishing, they were encouraged.

Notice the root words: “encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously”.  Courage, courage.  Paul knew his Old Testament, and knew by heart the story of Joshua taking over from Moses, how the Lord told him to “be strong and courageous”.  Later, Joshua told the same thing to all the men of Israel.  Then King David told his son Solomon the same thing.  Now, Paul is living it out and people are seeing him, and hearing the words.

“Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” I find the word “most” to be interesting.  Instead of “all”.  To me, that implies that there were some who were not encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  That reminds me of the parable of the sower, where for different reasons some of the growing, living seed didn’t survive.

Paul wasn’t boasting, wasn’t saying that he was so good that he could handle the chains with no problems.  What was he saying?  How does that apply to us today?  Is it easy to do?  Is it even possible?

  • Circumstances don’t matter. Christ matters.
  • Phil 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Ephesians 6:19-20 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

And so we should pray for one another.  Who has praises or prayer requests?

I have a trick question for you: what was the most important event in Jesus’ life?

The virgin birth?
Leaving His parents to stay at the temple?
His baptism? “this is My Son in whom I am well pleased” – that’s pretty important.
His first miracle, turning the water into wine?
The feeding of the 5000?
The sermon on the Mount, and the Beatitudes?
The Lord’s prayer?
Maybe something more personal – the woman caught in adultery?
His triumphal entry into Jerusalem?
The last supper?
His betrayal by Judas?
His death on the cross?
His resurrection?
His ascent into heaven?
His work now, arguing for us before God the Father? Heb 7:25 says “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
At the start of this, I warned you it was a trick question. There is no one “most important” event in Jesus’ life. They are all the most important. You can’t take anything away from Jesus’ life and still have Jesus. His whole life – every second of every day – was spent doing His Father’s will. And we are called to do the same. 1 Cor 6:19-20 says “You are not your own, you were bought with a price”.

That price was Jesus. His whole life went to pay for your sins, went to pay for my sins. That is why Jesus said, at the Last Supper, “As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of Me”. Not just events in His life, but the person of Jesus. The man. The friend. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we’re humans, and we can overemphasize the importance of anything.  Help us, as we take the bread and the cup, to remember that You are the most important thing, always. Every moment of every day. In Jesus’ name, amen.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Let’s pray.

Lord, Thank you for the gift of Jesus, His perfect life, His perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Because of that, we can approach Your throne as sons and daughters. One family, through Christ.  In His name I pray, Amen.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

When I’m driving, I like driving fast.  The police have different views, and over the years I have collected a nice group of tickets and warnings.  The last one was about two and a half years ago, a warning.  I keep it in my office, right above my computer, where I can see it all the time.  That’s what warnings are for!

I noticed recently that the writing on it is fading. I thought “Isn’t it great that with the passage of time and the presence of light, it’s just quietly going away – just like sin does.”  Then NO!  I got mad at myself, because that is sloppy and wrong thinking.  The only thing that removes sin is the blood of Jesus Christ.  Our memories are frail, and we often misremember the past – but God is perfect, and even the slightest sin is enough to separate me from God.

It is only the blood of Jesus, paying the penalty for my sins, and my acceptance through baptism, that removed my sins. Not the effect of those sins, but the guilt of them.

John 14:6 says “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Let’s pray.  Lord God, I so often want to remake You into my own image, to diminish the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. As I take the wafer and the juice, representing Jesus’ body and blood, help me to remember what really happened, and how only through Jesus’ work I can be your son. And it is in the name of Jesus that I pray, Amen.

Acts 12:21-24

So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them.  And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”  Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.  But the word of God grew and multiplied.

So Herod gave a speech, and the people loved it. They praised Herod, calling him a god. Herod ate it up – he loved the attention and the accolades. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lived for it. I know he died for it.

It’s easy to get used to the praises, and come to expect them. Herod expected the praises that should have gone to God. Essentially, he took what wasn’t his, and he paid for it. Seems proper. What I want to focus on is the people. The ones who called Herod a god for his speech. I have heard or read some good speeches – “Four score and seven years ago”. “A day that will live in infamy. ” “Ask not what this country can do for you.” “I have a dream.” You can identify those – and you can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were spoken by men, not by a god. The people in that scripture passage had a mighty low bar for being a god. I want a God who has more than pretty words. And I have one.

I have a God who created me, who loves me, who sent His Son to die for me, who filled me with the Holy Spirit at baptism, who guards and guides me every day.

That’s a God I can devote my life to, a God I can worship. My God speaks to me daily.

And that same God is Jesus, whose death and resurrection we are now celebrating with the wafer and the juice. Not a human who can spout pretty words and loves the praise. Jesus was fully man, and fully God, who inhabits our praise, and is worthy of our praise. He was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day. That’s my God. Let’s pray.

Father God, we approach Your throne boldly. We know that sitting on that throne is the real God, with ultimate power and ultimate love. We know that Jesus, perfect and sinless, paid the ultimate price for our sins, and now sits beside You in glory. Thank You for Your love and for the gift of Jesus. It’s in His name I pray, amen.

Today marks the 500th anniversary of a Catholic monk rebelling.  I don’t know if the door of the church at Wittenberg was red, black, natural, or “other”.  It was capable of accepting Luther’s 95 Theses, and that’s what kicked off the whole Protestant Reformation.

I don’t have a lot to say about it (the Reformation, not the door).  I’m glad it happened, and I’m pretty sure that Brother Luther wouldn’t recognize what the church has become.

Rather than spend a lot of words saying nothing, I’ll point to Wes King’s commentary.

According to family history, I have thrown exactly one temper tantrum in my life.  I was five years old, and I wanted to watch professional wrestling on TV.  Somebody prohibited me from doing what I wanted to do. Now I’m not going to mention any names, but an adult in my family decided she knew better than I did.

I’m sure that in my reasoned discussions with this adult that I used the phrase “It’s not fair!”.  I may have emphasized the point vocally, at volume.

That concept of “It’s not fair” has tended to follow me through life.  When I get a speeding ticket, I start to complain that the trooper picked on me – everybody else in the fast lane was speeding.  That “It’s not fair!” thing comes up, I start thinking about whether I was, in fact, going faster than the speed limit.  When I don’t get a good seat in a movie theater or a restaurant, I have to remind myself of what my money purchased.  I didn’t pay extra for the best seat in the house, and my “It’s not fair!” feeling goes away fast.

Then I take it up into the church level. “It isn’t fair!” that I get to lock up the church so often, that I have responsibilities that take time away from things I would rather do. I think of others in the church who do much more than I do, and that selfish feeling goes away.

And then at the spiritual level – I grew up in the church, went to a church college, I tithe faithfully, read my Bible and pray daily.  It isn’t fair that I’m not being blessed more.

And then God gets my attention, whispers “What about Jesus?” in my ear, and gives me some time to think about what is really fair and what isn’t.  Jesus, that perfect man, who never sinned, was crucified for His perfection.  They tried to stone Him, they did mock Him and beat Him, forced Him to carry the implement of His own death, and I have the utter audacity to say that what is happening to me isn’t fair?

Not only that, but the death of that perfect man, Jesus, actually paid the price for my sin – both the sin nature that is inside of me, and the acts of sin that spring forth from that.  Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross to pay the spiritual price for my temper tantrum.

As we take the wafer and drink the juice, which all Christians are invited to do, let us not forget that no, “It’s not fair!” – and that Jesus bore the burden for that unfairness.  Let’s pray.

Lord God, thank you for being unfair – and overly generous.  Thank you for the sacrifice of Jesus.  Thank you for the way of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It’s in His name that I pray, Amen.

Communion meditation for 9/24/2017

In big cities, you see a lot of different things. Sometimes these things are *really* different – like a bicycle painted all white. Tires, seat, handlebars, the whole thing painted white. They are called ghost bikes.

GB5

You might see them in random places along the roads, these white ghost bikes, chained to a tree or a signpost or a fence. They are not art, and they are not protests. These white bikes are memorials. You see, everywhere that you find one of these ghost bikes, that’s where somebody died while riding a bicycle. The ghost bike is a memorial to the one who died.  It might have been put there by their family, or their friends, or their biking club.

It’s a symbol, a memorial, of a tragic event that happened. A real person died there.  Not a statistic, not a trend or an average.  A person stopped living, right at that spot.

As Christians, we have our own symbol that is a public memorial of the death of a real person – we have the cross. Some of us wear jewelry with a cross on it, or have a Bible case with a cross, or have something in our homes with a cross. We have a cross on the front wall of our church.  All of that is a good thing – that memorial, that reminder.

And like the bicycles, the cross is empty.  Not because the person – Jesus Christ – is dead and gone.  The cross is empty because Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. Hallelujah!

The cross, though it is an important symbol of Jesus’ suffering, and though we are reminded to take up our cross daily, the cross is not the focus of our faith.  I’m reminded of Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 2:2 when he said “For I decided to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”. The cross is in there, but the most important thing – Jesus – remains the focus.

As we take the bread and the juice, and celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, let us be careful that we are honoring a person and not a symbol. Let’s pray.

Father God, thank You for the gift of Jesus. Thank You for the gift of salvation. And thank You for making it real, and not just symbolic. In Jesus’ name, amen.

(communion meditation 6/25/17.  Photo cropped from original by Royston Rascals CC BY-NC 2.0)

I like animals. I try to be kind to them and take care of them. Even bugs, though I do kill mosquitoes. There are limits to my kindness.

Back when we had one of those heavy rains, we had some worms up on our carport floor. They were escaping drowning, getting up where it was drier. But they stayed longer than they should have – the rain stopped, and things started drying out. Good for people, bad for worms. They were getting all coated with sand and dust, and from their worm perspective, they couldn’t see that they were headed IN to the center of the carport, instead of out towards the cool, moist grass. They were headed to their death.

Then I stepped in. I had the benefit of height, and hands, and perspective. I could see and do things they couldn’t even imagine. I plucked a piece of grass, slid it under the middle of the worm, picked him up, and carried him to the grass. Well, that was my plan. The worm started wiggling and trying to escape, turning into a worm-ball that wasn’t working with my plans.

I finally got him, I think by using two pieces of grass. As I’m walking my rescued worm to the grass, I’m talking to him. “Mister worm, I’m only trying to help you. Won’t you cooperate, please?“

Later on, I started thinking about Mr. Worm, and Mr. Steve, and God. About the many times He has rescued my life, physically and spiritually. About the times He has spoken to me – I know the plans I have for you. He leadeth me beside the still waters. And about how hard I can struggle against doing what is best.

And I’m sure that God wishes I would just trust Him and do what He says. That’s what Jesus did – nevertheless not My will, but thine – and the outcome of that obedience is what we are celebrating now. I invite all Christians to partake of the wafer and the juice, symbolizing Jesus’s broken body and shed blood. Let’s pray.

Father God, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for His sacrifice and for His example, and His resurrection. It’s in Jesus’s name I pray, amen.