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watch

Jude is a one-chapter book that deals with a church full of apostasy.  Jude, the half-brother of Jesus who did not even believe until after the resurrection, focuses on what exactly the enemies to a healthy body of Christ look and act like, who true believers are, and what true believers ought to do when faced with false teachers and enemies of the faith.  John MacArthur informs us that, “Jude lived at a time when Christianity was under severe political attack from Rome and aggressive spiritual infiltration from Gnostic-like false teachers who sowed abundant seed for a gigantic harvest of doctrinal error…Christianity was thought to be extremely vulnerable.  Thus, Judge called the church to fight, in the midst of intense spiritual warfare, for the truth.”

Fight, indeed, brothers and sisters.  That is our biblical charge from Jude in our modern day which so mirrors theirs.  Read and reread MacArthur’s words.  We are they.  They were us.  Make no mistake, we live in an era where the church is chock-full and overflowing with false teaching, false teachers, error, and vulnerability.  Apostasy is the “abandonment of true, biblical faith.”  If ever there was a time where this were ubiquitous, it is now.

Whose job is it to combat such things?  If teachers are false, who will be true?  Like Jude, we – you and me, not somebody in charge somewhere – must commit ourselves to fighting the good fight through the condemnation of apostates and urging our brothers and sisters to contend for the faith, faithfully.

Jude spends a great deal of time in his very concise book describing what apostates look like.  He does this for a very specific reason.  He’s not just talking about the bad guys of his day and hoping someone feels bad for him.  Jude is giving us intricate details about who and what to look for in our churches and communities so that we might rise up and fight whenever we see these kinds of people and things taking hold and harming or potentially harming our brothers and sisters.

Jude writes his book to, “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Christ Jesus.”  Jude is clearly writing this charge along with his detailed descriptions and instructions to believers.  His first order of business is a charge to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”  Once for all – no one else can come along and deliver new details in addition to the gospel.  No one can change the details of how to obtain salvation, who it’s for, or another gospel of any kind.  The Word of God is fixed and unchanging.  It does not “progress” or evolve nor does it need to.

Contend.  Jude commands believers to contend.  Contend against what?  Against who?  Here’s what they look like:

These people creep in, he says.  They sneak into our fellowship under the radar.  He describes them as, “designated for condemnation.”  They have actually been marked out for ultimate destruction, Jude remarks.

He describes them as ungodly perverters of grace who deny Christ.  In other words, they neither live in a way that honors God in their personal lives, nor do they apply and extend grace appropriately.  They either deny grace to those God has given it or they cheapen grace by changing it into a sensual lust and licence for themselves and those around them to act immorally on a false presumption that God will have mercy apart from repentance.

Jude takes some time to remind us, before he goes on about these ones, that though Christ (Christ!) saved his people out of Egypt, he did not spare the majority of even those whom he had just delivered when they disobeyed and displayed their unbelief in the desert that followed their deliverance.   He goes on to talk about the angels who lived in heaven long ago and rebelled against God.  Even they were not spared, rather, punished severely for all eternity due to their disobedience.  He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah and how their sexual deviance and gross immorality brought God’s swift judgement and sent them to eternal fire.  Why does Jude go to all of these examples?

Jude is warning those who are sneaking around the church living in these ways that these are the kinds of judgments God will bring if they do not repent.  If his own people and his own angels were not spared, how much less then, will we be spared if we presume upon his grace, live in sin, and lead others astray?!

In verse 8 Jude says, “Yet in like manner these people also…”  In like manner; likewise; in the same way —– you who are doing these things in today’s world.  Jude is calling them out, identifying the people in his day with these who were judged and punished in the history of God’s world.  He describes them further as relying on their dreams, defiling the flesh, rejecting authority, and blaspheming the glorious ones.  He shows them up by giving an example of how Michael – the very highest angel – did not even dare to speak arrogantly to Satan, but left all judgement to the Lord.

So these are people who are often sexually immoral and/or homosexual, rejecting the authority of Christ and the Scriptures, and presumptuous about having their own authority in the spiritual realm.  They use a false narrative about their own dreams to manipulate and persuade others to believe and follow their heresies and accept their misconduct.

Jude calls them blasphemers twice.  They blaspheme, or speak sacrilegiously and disrespectfully about the true things of God and God himself.  These people speak foolishly of all they do not understand.  He says they are destroyed by what they do understand.  The reason is because they have no excuse to disobey what their own instincts tell them is right and wrong.  When they do, they destroy themselves and any chance of salvation.  They rebel against the very knowledge inside themselves that is meant to draw them to Christ.

Jude breaks for a moment to cry out, “Woe to them!”  Woe, indeed.  He brings up Cain, Balaam, and Korah.  These are more Old Testament personalities that both the Jews and the Christians would have known well.

Cain, the jealous, insecure murderer.  People like Cain will step on and stamp out anyone who acts more faithfully or does God’s work in a more holy way than they do.  We all know church leaders like this, don’t we?

Balaam, the greedy seeker of ill-gotten gain who leads others into sin and has to be rebuked by a donkey.  These are those who use the gospel for money and teach others to do the same.  A deceiver who cares only for personal gain.  We all know church leaders like this, don’t we?

Korah, the leader of rebellion who rebelled against the God-appointed men of his time, Moses and Aaron.  False teachers rebel against the authority of the truth and anyone who would hold them accountable to it.  We all know church leaders like this, don’t we?

Jude goes on to call these men hidden reefs, shepherds feeding themselves, water-less clouds, fruitless trees, twice dead, uprooted, wild waves, and wandering stars for whom darkness awaits.  Here we have another warning.  If you act in these ways within God’s church and among God’s people, let’s be clear, darkness awaits you.  What do all these allusions mean?

Hidden reefs is meant to convey the sneaky, hiding men who lie in wait to cause destruction.  Hidden reefs are underwater rocks dangerous to ships traveling through.  When hit unawares by the boat, they harm and destroy from a covert place.  They feed themselves through self-interest and greed.  They produce no water or fruit where they promise and pose to do so.  They are not only dead in sin, they are dead to the promise  salvation by their own corruption of it.  They are wild, rogue, and wandering.  They have no solid foundation from which to lead anyone including themselves.  In short, these false teachers are complete hypocrites.  They spring up and burn out in their useless ambitions.

Jude brings up Enoch and again warns of the judgement to come on evildoers such as these.  He mentions their being “ungodly” four times in a row.  He puts great emphasis on the severity of these men’s sin.

Jude is still not done!  He indicts the apostates as grumblers, malcontents, sinful, loud boasters who are guilty of partiality, favoritism, and gross self-interest.  They are ungodly scoffers who cause division and are void of the Spirit.  These guys complain, brag, exclude, and self-love on the daily.  They mock, laugh, and taunt true believers, incite disagreements, and they have no communion with the Spirit of God.

Jude does not mince words.  He tells us exactly what to look for.  Can you even imagine a church leader today going down this list and calling out apostates?  They’d be locked up for hate speech!  Sadly, it is more needed today than it even was then I imagine.  Nevertheless, this is who they are.  This is what to look for.  These are the kind of men you warn, and warn again.  These are those we must not submit to or ignore in any way.  Remember, they are leaders and false teachers within the church.  These are not some guys somewhere teaching a cult-group in a cave.  These are men and women in the church who must be fought against and rebuked publicly!!!  That’s Jude’s charge to all believers in the face of apostasy.

Finally, that is who they are.  But Jude has something else for us.  He tells us who we are.  Three times in the text he calls us, “beloved.”  True believers are loved immensely by Christ.  We are God’s beloved people and, though we must fight evil, we able to trust in Him.

Jude commands believers to build themselves up in faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, stay in God’s love, wait for the mercy of Christ, and trust Him.  He tells us one other thing we must do in the midst of apostasy.  We must have mercy for those who doubt.  We must work tirelessly to save others and snatch them out of the fires of sin and judgement.  In addition to contending against false teachers, we must pick up the pieces of those who would follow them and truly be our brother’s keeper.

Jude’s entire thrust is that we would be the vigilant sailors on the ship continually proclaiming, “Not on my watch.”  Not on my watch will apostates and false teachers succeed and thrive within God’s church.  Not on my watch will sinners be damned by following them.  Not on my watch will the apostates go un-warned or un-rebuked.  Not on my watch!  I have been commanded to contend for the gospel and fight with all my being.  Go and do likewise.

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mosesfacemountain-632

When the Lord was finished giving instruction to Moses and rewriting the Ten Commandments on the second set of tablets, Moses came back down the mountain to the people.  Last time, Moses found them in deliberate, devastating sin.  This time, they are awaiting his arrival in faith.  When Moses shows up, though, they are afraid because his face is supernaturally shining with God’s glory.

Isn’t it funny how when we are in the most danger and disobedience, we fear not the God against whom we are sinning, but when we are in a repentant and expectant posture we recognize our great need of mercy?  It seems just the opposite of what ought to be, but, no.  The more we know God and his holiness, the more we know ourselves and our unholiness.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Moses’ face was gleaming with God’s glory when he came down the mountain.  Likewise, perhaps not physically visible as Moses’s radiance, yet still recognizable, there is a certain countenance God puts on us when we have spent considerable time with Him in earnest.  Matthew Henry says, “Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man’s countenance such as commands esteem and affection.” There is a noticeable difference between the face of man and the face of a man who knows God intimately.

Interestingly, Moses did not know his face was shining.  The most humble men are often the most used of God.  Sometimes, those who are least apt to think God is pleased with them are most recognized by others as great instruments of grace.  Conversely, those most confident in their own abilities and talents are often dismissed by their own pride and most unfit for use in the kingdom.  We ought not know our own excellence, or if we know it, cover it with a humble and gentle spirit of modesty.

Even though the people have been waiting patiently upon Moses’ return down from the mountain – the very thing that grieved them and was the source of their complaints and idolatry last time he went up – they are not excited and jubilant when Moses returns.  They are afraid because of his radiant face.  They are afraid to even come close to Moses.  Remember, last time Moses came down, he found them in their sin.  Seeing Moses’ face shine supernaturally insites guilt and fear of judgement for the guilty.  In the same way, many people today are anything but excited to hear about what God said in His Word or what we experience while in His presence because seeing someone who is the real deal makes them overwhelmingly conscious of their own guilt and quite fearful.  Henry says, “Holiness will command reverence; but the sense of sin makes men afraid of their friends, and even of that which really is a favor to them…for the most sensible proofs will not of themselves conquer an obstinate infidelity.”

After giving the people God’s laws and commands, Moses covers his shining face with a veil.  Apparently this was not to ease their fear, since he waits until after he calls them near and explains all God’s orders to them.  This was to keep the people from seeing the glory fade away.  Until Christ came and the gospel was revealed, God’s people saw but shadows of the fullness of Christ; the gospel was, as it was, veiled and concealed in the Old Covenant, fading and coming to an end, making way for the Living Word, that is, Jesus Christ.

Everytime Moses went back to speak with God outside the camp after this event, he took the veil off.  When he came out, his face shone bright again and slowly faded.  He kept the veil on among the people, but never with God.  All is laid bare in the presence of God and there is no hiding our face.  We who see God’s glory through our belief in the gospel have what the apostle Paul calls, “unveiled faces.”  Just as Moses saw God and knew him intimately, so do we who are in Christ.  Amen!

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change

Once upon a time there lived a man who wanted to change the world for the better.  He wanted to make clear statements about social injustice, the place of politics and government, and help all those who would care to listen and follow his lead on the road that leads to positive change and personal growth.

One by one, the man spoke to others.  He prayed for them.  He got to know them.  He helped them and healed them by simply doing what his father sent him out to do.  Sometimes, he had to correct them because all of them made poor choices and bad decisions at one point or another.

After some time, many began to follow him.  Others began to hate him.  Some were not sure and watched from the sidelines as he continued to amaze and overcome the entire world as they knew it.  Eventually, he was murdered out of jealousy by those he offered nothing more than love and friendship.

I am not one much for arguing politics, football, presidents, or protests.  I believe presenting and arguing for the truth of the gospel and applying it practically is where all battles are truly won.  Bringing clarity from the scriptures is the only way to rightly diagnose and treat the condition of sick, angry, erring human hearts.

The state our nation is in is shameful and not one of us can point the finger at another for our wretched condition.  It is time to stop complaining and blaming and start doing the simple things that lead to change.  If every single person that had an opinion about what football players were doing about the National Anthem yesterday was working to better their own community somehow, help their neighbors, and be a light in the world we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  You know why?  Because we would all be too busy doing good to care what a bunch of overpaid hypocrites did or didn’t do with their influence, their money, and their game playing.  Change starts with you.  It is does not start with the president, your boss, your kids, your church, your husband, your wife, your mother, your father, or a football team.  None of their decisions are your decisions.  Your decisions decide what kind of influence you will bring to the table of this world.  Focus on that.

As far as the actions of others, namely football players on September 24, 2017, say the truth.  Give your two cents and then work to be the kind of person you want others to be.  Truth be told, for most people watching this whole charade, the reason they are kneeling is largely unclear.  They claim to be standing up for social justice but all the world sees is grown men sitting down, hiding out in locker rooms, and refusing to participate in what most of the country still believes is a gesture of great importance, respect, and honor.  The last time I checked, standing up for what you believe did not involve staying hidden from view when you do so.  Not only that, but can a large group of multimillionaires not find anything more helpful and altruistic to do for those they claim to be kneeling down in support of than igniting outrage in people who just showed up to watch football?

I do not care which side of the debate you are on, cowardice is cowardice.  If you need to stand, stand.  If you need to kneel, kneel.  But there is no respect for a person or a group of people who claim to want to make a statement about unity, hide while making it, and, in so-doing knowingly divide their audience.

We live in a culture where abstaining from difficult conversation, debate, critical thinking, and honest reasoning together is obsolete and has even become taboo.  Avoidance, silent treatments, and the lack of accountability are the things that will ultimately destroy what is left of the solid foundation of this country.  Recognize that.  Change it in your own life and relationships.  Talk about hard things without shutting differing opinions out.  Debate important issues without becoming enemies.  Pray for those who fail to see what is true.  Serve everyone.  Live to love even when you are hated.  Read the gospel and then read it again.  Preach and teach the gospel.  Make disciples.  Jesus Christ showed us exactly what to do in the midst of this kind of hostility.  He was willing to shed his own blood so that others could be free.  Kind of sounds like the guys who fought for the symbol in question.  Stop bending your knee in protest and start laying down your life in love.  Go.

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My husband taught on Colossians 4 this past Sunday and there were a few things I wanted to study further and comment on because of their great importance.  After his discourse on interpersonal and familial relationships, Paul begins chapter four with a few last commands and then mentions quite a few people.  Being that most of them have weird names and most of us generally gloss right over the closing salutations of epistles, I want to look at those people specifically and glean some wisdom as to why he does this.

Firstly, Paul tells the Colossians to pray.  He instructs them to be both watchful and thankful in prayer.  He asks them to pray for he and his companions who are in prison for preaching the gospel, and especially that they would have opportunities to share the gospel.  He also asks that they would pray that he would be able to convey the message with clarity.

Next, he tells them to be wise – especially toward outsiders.  He is speaking of those outside the faith, also known as unbelievers.  He instructs them to always speak with grace, tastefully, if you will.  The reason he gives is so that they will know how to answer everyone.

Now, before he closes his letter, Paul begins to name names.  He mentions more than a few individuals and a couple groups of people.  It is quite important that we consider these people, who they were, and try to understand why he does this.  Why are these names included in the sacred scripture?  Let’s see.

The first person mentioned is Tychicus.  Paul said he was sending this man to tell the Colossians how he was – to give a report on Paul who was, of course, in prison for preaching the gospel.  He includes a man named Onesimus with Tychicus.  He calls Onesimus a faithful and beloved brother and adds that Onesimus is “one of you.”

Onesimus.  Now here’s a guy Paul devoted a whole book – Philemon – to.  The whole whopping one chapter of Philemon is a matter of Paul vouching for Onesimus.  Why does he do this?  He does it because Onesimus had been Philemon’s slave.  Onesimus had run away.  He had been a slave.  He’d done wrong in his past.  But he had been converted to Christ and Paul had discipled him.  He had ministered to Paul in prison and Paul knew first hand that Onesimus was a changed man, that he was trustworthy, and that he was a true brother in Christ.  Paul also knew that Philemon would not take well to Onesimus’s return.  He knew that it was very likely that he’d be looked down upon, excluded from fellowship, and thought ill of when he returned to Philemon.  Therefore Paul sends a letter to instruct Philemon to accept this man.  He does so once again here in Colossians.  Paul goes to great pains to include and honor Onesimus in the church, even after all the failure of his past.

It is very important that we get this.  It is important that we understand why Paul did this.  Why was this so incredibly important to Paul – so much so that he makes special mention of this man not once, but twice in the epistles?

Paul was once like Onesimus.  You and I were once like Onesimus.  Lost sinners do wrong things to others.  When we become Christians, people do not automatically believe that we are changed.  Church people, on many occasions, do not feel particularly inclined to include us after we have just come out of grievous sin and rolled on into their fellowship.   They’re scared.  They’re proud.  They’re self-protective.  Paul knew how people are – even Christian people.  Good leaders understand the difficulty diversity brings.  So, instead of excusing the suspicion and prejudice he knew his buddies were going to have against this man, he takes special time to honor and publicly vouch for him calling them all to grace, peace, acceptance, and inclusion of this particular brother in Christ.

Barnabas did as much for Paul in Acts 9.  Remember, Paul was a murderer, a Christian hater, an abusive religious leader.  Not many Christians were real anxious to trust and include him just because he said he knew Jesus now.  But Barnabas stood next to Paul.  He did what Paul is doing for Onesimus here.  Paul knew how it felt to be the one under a cloud of constant suspicion and mistrust.  Therefore, he instructs his church to include this man.  What a beautiful picture of grace.

Matthew Henry says this: “The meanest circumstance of life, and greatest wickedness of former life, make no difference in the spiritual relation among sincere Christians; they partake of the same privileges, and are entitled to the same regards.”

Next, we have Aristarchus.  Aristarchus was just mentioned as a fellow prisoner.

Then we have Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.  Remember, at one point Paul had big issues with Mark.  Mark had deserted while they were preaching the gospel and went home.  The next time when Mark wanted to go on a mission with Paul, Paul absolutely refused to take him.  Here, though, we see great evidence that Paul and Mark were completely reconciled.  By making mention of Mark here, and even giving great recommendation and honor to Mark in view of the churches, Paul proves his forgiving spirit and that reconciliation was full and final.

This is what Christians are called to do even when disagreements are sharp and strong.  This is the gospel applied to our relationships.  Christians are not at liberty to stay at odds with one another no matter how severe the disagreement is.  We are called to reconcile – and reconcile to the point of previous peace or better.  This is a very important principle found in Paul’s mention of Mark here.

Next we have a man named Jesus who was called Justus of whom little is known and then Epaphras.  Epaphras is honored for his faithful prayers for the church.  He was actually the founder of the Colossian Church.  Then, we have Luke the doctor and Demas mentioned.  Demas later forsook Paul and in 2 Timothy 4:10. Paul calls Demas out by name for his sin.

Now this, remember is the same guy who just instructed his church to always make sure their conversations were seasoned with salt and full of grace – especially with outsiders/unbelievers – yet he writes his very public letter to Timothy that this particular guy forsook him and states his specific sin – loving the world.  The fact that Paul mentions Demas here with honor tells us that Paul had no personal issue with Demas before he called out his sin and his name individually for all to know.  There’s a lesson here.  It is not wrong to call out sin in leadership – even by name when necessary.  (See 1 Timothy 5:20)

Next we have Nympha.  Paul greets Nympha and describes her as one who has a church in her house.  Gasp!  A girl!  With a church!  In her house?!  What?!! Yep.  I think that greeting speaks for itself.

Finally, Paul mentions Archippus.  Here is an interesting instruction.  Paul tells the members of the Colossian Church to admonish this minister – their minister!  The people are called to admonish their leader and remind him to make certain he is working diligently for the gospel.  Imagine that.  Wow.  Kinda puts to rest some misconceptions of the religious rules we are indoctrinated with today, huh?

I don’t know about you but I am just amazed at the amount of wisdom found just in the listing of these names in this ending salutation.  There is great wisdom, instruction, and importance in understanding who these people were and why Paul takes the time to mention them.  They are thus:

  1. Your past should not dictate your future within God’s church.  You can do great things for God even if you were the worst kind of sinner in the lowest social position!  Good leaders will build up the lowly and call others to do the same.
  2. Your disputes with other believers, regardless of how sharp, can and should be fully reconciled.  Restoration among all believers is the gospel lived out.  
  3. Present good standing in the church does not excuse poor future behavior and sin.  There should be no good old boy system within God’s church!  Good leaders are never partial and they give honor and call out sin as needed no matter who is involved.
  4. Girls can have churches!  Churches can be in houses!  Hallelujah!
  5. Members can and should admonish their leaders. 

Lastly, Paul concludes with asking the Colossians to, “remember my chains.”  Think of me.  Pray for me.  Be faithful.  Remember my suffering for Christ.  Remember me and remember why I’m here.  We should all remember those who suffer and are persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ as well.  Amen.

 

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leader

My husband mentioned he’d been listening to the book of Philemon the other night and he turned it on for our family to listen to yesterday.  It’s been some time since I have read this one chapter book of the Bible and there is a lot of great wisdom here.

Paul writes this book to Philemon.  He was a slave owner who also had a church meeting in his house.  The first thing Paul does is offer encouragement to Philemon.  He then proceeds to make a somewhat forceful request.  He tells Philemon that he could command him but he prefers to appeal.  What is Paul asking for?

Paul ran into a slave that had belonged to Philemon while he was in prison in Rome.  He became close to this man – like a father even.  His name was Onesimus.

Paul had been given the opportunity to share the gospel with Onesimus.  He had been converted to Christ through Paul’s preaching and become like a son to him.  This man was very dear to Paul and he had been helping and serving Paul as he was in prison for a time.

There was only one problem.  Onesimus was not a free man.  He was a runaway slave.  Though free in Christ, Onesimus had done wrong by leaving his master.

Consider this situation.

Philemon had been wronged.  Onesimus’ bad behavior had caused him to lose his worker and his wages.  The man who was under obligation to serve him had deserted.  Onesimus somehow runs into Paul in Rome when Paul is in prison.  Onesimus becomes a Christian through Paul’s ministry and serves him faithfully.  Take close note of what Paul does.

Paul allows some time to pass and doubtless personally disciples this runaway. Making sure his faith is real, he experiences first hand the love and obedience Onesimus’ conversion wrought.  Then, he does something that only a great man of integrity would even consider doing. Paul surrenders the personal help and comfort that this man is giving to him in prison and he sends him back to his rightful owner.

There was nothing in it for Paul except the satisfaction of Onesimus making right on his wrong and having the opportunity to watch Philemon accept him back not as a slave, but as a brother.  Paul gave up personal comfort and help and risked his friendship with Philemon and his church by forcefully appealing to him about what he ought to do with his former slave.

In other words, Paul is basically telling a man who has suffered wrong through no fault of his own to forgive – and not only to forgive, but to welcome this man as a brother rather than putting him back to work as a slave – something he could have done by justice.

Notice how Paul conveys his “suggestion.”

 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. ~Philemon 1:10

Firstly, Paul appeals on the basis of his own frailty.  He’s an old man sitting in prison.  Clearly, he is doing this for the good of all – for love’s sake, not self.

(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) ~Philemon 1:11

Secondly, he appeals by making the point that Onesimus is of much more value and help now, as a brother in Christ, than he was as a trying to escape worker.

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. ~Philemon 1:12

Finally, he appeals on the basis of love.  Paul makes his true love and concern for this former wrongdoer very clear.

 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. ~Philemon 1:13-14

Lastly, Paul makes the case that he is returning this man in order to prove Philemon faithful to the law of grace and mercy – not by force, but by giving him the opportunity to choose for himself to do what is right.

Paul is trusting.  He is trusting Onesimus to go back to the very situation he likely risked his own life to run away from.  Paul is trusting Philemon to forgive a man he has every right and reason to demand justice from.  Paul is trusting both men to do what is right for the sake of the gospel.  Then, he is taking his hands off of both men and allowing them each to decide for themselves whether they will do what is right in this mess.  He is asking both men to do something that would have been very difficult on both ends and that is to trust each other as well.  Paul is also trusting Philemon’s church and the members of his household to forgive and trust the runaway, too.  Ultimately, Paul is trusting God and giving men every opportunity to prove faithful.  Good leaders like Paul know that they must give responsibility to their children/followers/disciples in order to see them become responsible.

Notice what else Paul does to diffuse the situation and make it easier for both men to choose the right thing.  Paul says this:

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. ~Philemon 1:17-20

Paul vouches for Onesimus.  He puts his proverbial arms around this rebel and he says, “This is my son; my guy; my friend; my help; my brother. Receive him as if he were me.”  This is so important!  Paul knows that this is what it is going to take to soften the hearts of those who were mad at Onesimus in this household.  Paul uses his authority to influence those under him to love one another sacrificially.  That is a leader we can follow.

Not only that, but how much confidence and love must Onesimus have felt knowing Paul was willing to stand next to him this way.  Paul knows what to do to encourage him because once upon a time he needed someone to vouch for his changed character, too.  Remember when the church was afraid of Paul because he was a murderer?  When he got converted Barnabas stood next to him and did what his is here doing for Onesimus.  Good leaders never forget where they came from.

Furthermore, Paul owns the rebel’s debt.  He tells the man who has been wronged (Philemon) that he will repay any and all debt or lost wages accrued on account of Onesimus’ departure.  He then reminds Philemon of the fact that even though he, too, owes Paul his very life for the salvation he’d brought to him, he is willing to overlook that fact and is more than willing to pay back any debt Onesimus owes Philemon.

In reality both men owe Paul their lives for the grace his gospel preaching had given to them.  Both were converted to Christ by Paul’s ministry.  Yet Paul says I won’t even mention that.  Tell me what I owe you and I’m more than willing to pay for Christ’s sake and the love and unity of his church.

Lastly, Paul encourages Philemon by telling him that he believes in him.  He reminds him that he trusts him.  He reminds him also that he can’t wait to see him.

Wow.  What a leader.  Paul was a man who could look at a situation with a bird’s eye view and navigate it rightly.  In this short book we see just how important righting our wrongs and forgiving our debtors really is.  Paul makes it clear that neither is for the sake of self but both are for the sake of the gospel.

Go and do likewise.

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defense

Paul spends the better part of 2 Corinthians 11 and 12 “boasting.”  Why would he do that?  Why did he do that – even calling himself foolish and a madman as he did it?

False “brethren” – false “apostles” – more or less false “friends” had come into the Corinthian church.  They were not only maligning the gospel, but also pointedly maligning Paul himself.  Paul steps up to the plate to defend himself based on the facts of his own example.  He uses his hardship and weakness as his boast.  He speaks of all the right and reasons he had to be heard by his church.

The truth is, he never should have had to do this.  His church should have defended him when these false frenemies came to tear him (and them!) down.  If anyone was worthy of their loyalty, it was Paul.  No one loved them more than he did save Christ.  This man would have given his life for theirs.  How could they not see the truth?  How could they be so blind?

He begins by showing them that he has all the qualifications they use to disqualify people who do not.  He shares all the pain he personally had endured for the sake of the gospel and for them.  He talks about a persistent problem he deals with in his own life – his “thorn.”  These are his “boasts.”

In chapter 12 Paul tells his church that he has been a fool to elaborate on such things, but that it was they that “forced him to it.”  How so?

His reason for speaking so foolishly and boasting in his weaknesses was because his own church had forsaken him.  Consider that.

The Corinthian church knew Paul very well.  They knew he was qualified to lead them.  They knew what he had risked, endured, and lost for the sake of the gospel and for Christ.  They surely knew these facts well.  He feels particularly inclined to remind them because they surely should have loved him.  They should have listened to him.  They should have remembered him and his true words when false brothers came in and slandered him and the gospel itself.

Paul’s church did not defend him.  They listened instead to liars who they did not know from Adam.  They followed false men with a false gospel whose primary goal was to discredit Paul himself so that they could take control of the church.

Paul’s church did not defend him so he defends himself.  He’s talking crazy because their utter foolishness is making him crazy!  He’s saying, “Hey, guys!  Remember me?  The guy who taught you the gospel?  I am not inferior to these troublemaking false new best friends of yours.  I am noone special but, with God as my witness, I am a true friend to you and to God.  Did you see the signs he gave me?  I know you did.  I don’t want your money or your positions or whatever it is you think I’m going to take away from you.  I want your heart.  Show me your heart.”

“…for I seek not what is yours but you…” ~2 Corinthians 12:14

You guys think I’m here to take something away from you or hurt you.  I am not seeking what belongs to you.  I am seeking YOU!  Sounds like something Jesus would say…

“Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.” ~2 Corinthians 12:19

You think I am defending myself?  This foolish defense is for YOU!!! It is for your growth, church.  BELOVED church.  Please.  Please do not let me show up and see you unrepentant.  This is my third visit to you.  I warned you.  There are no more warnings.  Warning time is over.  Examine yourselves.  See if you are truly in the faith.  I want you to be restored.  Here is the only way that is going to happen:

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” ~2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Rejoice.  Restore.  Comfort each other.  Agree.  Live in peace.  Please.  Church, please.

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crutches

Two days ago my oldest daughter fell and sprained her ankle.  Enter: Mom.  I have never actually seen a woman who is nine months pregnant escorting a hopping child and two hyperactive rascals behind, but I can imagine that it is probably quite a sight to see.

After a day’s worth of ice packs, doctors, x-rays, and picking up crutches, she is getting along pretty well.  I don’t think I could walk with sticks but she seems to have figured it out for the most part.  Still, her good sport spirit and adaptive nature is not what surprised me the most.  Her sisters are.  Remember those two little rascals I mentioned following in tow earlier?  They have become her “servants.”  The littlest one always says she is going to be a butler when she grows up.  I’m starting to think she’d make a good one.  Truly, my six and eight year-old have waited on their big sister hand and foot.  She even has a bell to ring when she needs something.

I say I’m surprised because I generally rely on the oldest for help.  She is my sidekick.  The little ones generally do not have much interest in anything besides playing ponies or bathing Barbie.  I suppose it is my fault for not asking as much of them.  It makes me happy to know they are willing to help when they are needed.

The helpful atmosphere in my home the past couple days got me to thinking about the hurting brothers and sisters we are facing right now.  The Syrian people are related to us by a bond called humanity.  They are injured, oppressed, and running for their and their families’ lives.  I may not be very well-versed in foreign affairs or political gains, but I know human need when I see it. I am a Christian, after all.  It is a call second only to sharing the gospel for me to recognize and respond to the needs of others.

I try to see the other side of this thing.  I understand why people are afraid.  But all I can I keep thinking of is how disappointed I would be in my children if they were not willing to help each other.   I keep thinking of how proud I am of them for taking care of their sister when she needs assistance.  And then I look up at the news and I see a staunch unwillingness to serve people in desperate need in the name of self-preservation.

Isn’t that just like us?  It is me-first in the not so united kingdom we call the United States of America.  In the kingdom of God, however, it is what I say five times a day to my now living it out children – others first.

Do others have the potential to hurt us deeply despite our kindness toward them?  They do.  Might they take great advantage of our generosity?  They may.  Can they even go so far as to return evil for good?  They can.  Is there any way to ensure appreciation and reciprocation of the good we do to others when they are in need?  Absolutely not.  But that is not even a relevant argument when loving and serving people comes out of a wellspring of gratitude one has for Christ.  Get this, Christians.  We are not called to help others only when it is safe, convenient, cheap, or easy.  As David said, “…I will not make a sacrifice to the Lord which costs me nothing…”  My Bible says to love your enemies, do good to them, and pray for those who persecute you.  I cannot do that from behind a bullet-proof barricade in my basement.

Isolation is about control.  They only people who try to control uncontrollable circumstances are the fearful; the insecure; the deceived; the anxiety-ridden.

I understand the issues.  Really, I do.  I know fear, insecurity, anxiety, and uncertainty are real factors in the refugee refusal rhetoric.  The problem I see for we Christians, though, is that neither fear, nor insecurity, nor uncertainty, nor anxiety is an acceptable excuse to forsake and forego loving and serving those broken and needy Syrian somebodies whom God has placed bare-faced in front of us.

Risk, courage, and personal sacrifice are the very fabric of Christianity, and, in days past, Americanism.  King Jesus is our example.  He, who wielded the most power of any man who ever lived on earth, forsook that advantage in order to save the lost, hurting, and dying.  My God was willing to die for me and, from what his book says, I believe he expects me to be willing, if need be, to lay down my life for his good purposes.  Self-preservation is not an option when Christ is our Lord.

Some will hate, terrorize, and kill us despite our love toward them, that much is true.  Our job isn’t to figure out who those ones might be.  Our job is to love people on behalf of Christ.  Who knows who might repent and receive the gospel as a result.  If it just so happens to be at our expense, the Bible says that is a blessing for us.  The question is, do we really believe it?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. ~Matthew 5:10-16

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